BELLEVILLE, NJ - It has been a memorable season all the way around for the Millburn Millers and on Wednesday afternoon against the Belleville Buccaneers, head coach Rodger Blind's team added another unforgettable moment to the archives when senior guard Joe Kizel notched his 1,000th career point on a free throw with 38.6 seconds remaining in what turned out to be a 24-point Millburn victory. Kizel scored 25 on the afternoon to lead all scorers, none bigger in terms of the work he has done over the past four years than that free throw as he became the seventh boys player in school history to reach the milestone.
Though the final score reads as if the Millers blew the Buccaneers out of the gym, quite the opposite was true during the first sixteen minutes of the game. The Millers actually trailed by a point at halftime, 27-26, and were having trouble in a couple areas of the game - namely, cashing in on Belleville's turnovers and limiting their own miscues with the ball.
The first quarter saw Millburn open up an early lead, due in large part to the Millers' ability to limit the Buccaneers to only a single shot per possession. Millburn held a decisive edge in terms of rebounds throughout the game and in the first period, the Millers did a good job boxing out and controlling the defensive glass. Will Spelman had a nice period for Millburn as he dumped in six of his nine points on the afternoon in the first quarter. Spelman was the recipient of some great looks as the Millers continually beat Belleville's full-court press. Millburn point guard Max Miller handled the ball well, as did Andrew Spelman from the other guard position. Chad Barnes hit a three for Belleville late in the quarter, but Alex Rosenberg knocked down a jumper just before the buzzer to give the Millers a 16-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Buccaneers found their stroke from the outside in the second quarter and used a 17-10 scoring advantage to take a one-point lead at halftime, 27-26. The Millers forced turnovers but also turned the ball over themselves repeatedly, which allowed Belleville to take command of the game.
After an Andrew Spelman three pointer put the Millers up 24-17 with just under five minutes to play in the half, the Buccaneers - led by forward Justin Winchester - closed the gap quickly. Belleville seemed to pick up some momentum after Rosenberg stole the ball but flubbed a dunk attempt at the other end. The Belleville student section erupted and the players seemed to gain some momentum as they closed out the half with a 10-3 run, keyed by a Winchester three and a three-point play by forward Julian Rodriguez.
Once the second half began, however, it was all Millers for the final 16 minutes of the game. The game's best player - and one of Millburn's best players in school history - co-captain Joe Kizel lit up the scoreboard with a huge third quarter that put the game away for the Millers. Millburn outscored Belleville 18-3 in the decisive third period and Kizel scored eight quick points on three of four Millburn possessions during a two-minute surge. Millburn's defense wreaked havoc on the undisciplined Buccaneers as they recorded 12 steals on the afternoon, most of which came during the third quarter. When the buzzer sounded at the end of the third, the Millers held a 44-30 lead and would not look back.
The fourth quarter was a mere formality aside from Kizel's milestone late in the quarter. By the three minute mark, Blind had taken all of his starters aside from Kizel out of the game. Rosenberg atoned for his earlier missed dunk by hammering down a thunderous one-handed slam off a steal with just under two minutes left in the game. It was an exclamation point on a dominant victory.
After Kizel hit the first of two free throws to give him the monumental 1,000th point of his excellent career, the game stopped momentarily as Kizel was congratulated by his coaches and teammates on the floor and the Millburn section of the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Kizel smiled widely and walked back out on the floor to finish off his free throws - which he did successfully - and exited the game with 1,001 career points.
The win raised Millburn's record to 21-3 on the season. Rosenberg added 14 points and seven rebounds, Kizel chipped in four steals for the Millers and point guard Max Miller scored four points, notched three steals and tossed out three assists. Justin Winchester led the Buccaneers with 12 points.
The Millers open the state basketball tournament as a No. 2 seed and will host Voorhees at home on Monday afternoon at 5 p.m.