MILLBURN, NJ - On Monday night, the unstoppable force met the immovable object inside the gymnasium at Millburn High School. The monster match-up between the Millburn Millers and the Ridge Red Devils featured two teams with equal 17-3 records and the stage was set for an epic boys basketball showdown. Both teams featured stifling defenses and efficient offenses but the Millers were too much as they doubled up the Red Devils in the decisive fourth quarter and won 58-48.
The Millers have been nearly unbeatable this season on their home court and when the game hit crunch time, team co-captain Alex Rosenberg's star shone brightest as his 22 points put the Millers over the top and at the same time, helped Millburn snap the Red Devils' nine-game winning streak.
Before the game even tipped off, there was a feeling of electricity inside the gym and the intensity shown by each team during pre-game warm-ups suggested a playoff-type atmosphere. Normally, players will laugh and joke with their teammates in the lay-up lines before a game, but on Monday night, both teams approached their pre-game rituals with stone faces and workmen-like attitudes. One could sense that the players and coaches on each bench felt an extra tinge of anticipation for the big game in front of them.
The Millers controlled the opening tip and Millburn's Brian Brown opened the game's scoring with a lay-up in transition, but Ridge's Tom Gambino dropped in two of his eight points on the night on the Red Devils' ensuing possession thanks to a nice assist by point guard Nick Cefalo. The first two buckets of the evening established a back-and-forth tone which would see both teams continually match one another throughout the game.
Alex Rosenberg - Millburn's co-captain and focal point of the offense - drilled a three just in front of the buzzer to give the Millers a 13-11 advantage at the end of the first quarter. Rosenberg began to really heat up in the second quarter, but the Millers struggled at times against the Red Devils' pressing and double-teaming defense. Ridge forced the Millers into several turnovers in the second quarter which led to easy buckets at the other end for the Red Devils' quick guards.
Midway through the second period, the Millers steadied themselves and opened up a bit of a lead after Rosenberg hit a nice fadeaway and on the next Ridge possession, Joe Kizel stole the ball and found a slashing Rosenberg under the hoop on a fast break for what looked to be an easy lay-up. However, Rosenberg was fouled on the shot attempt, but he made both free throws. After a five-point outburst by Ridge's Rob McCarthy - his only five points of the night - Millburn's Will Spelman answered with four points - his only four points of the night - and the Millers headed to the locker room up 30-23 at halftime.
The seven-point lead that Millburn took into the half was short-lived as Ridge evened the game by the end of the third quarter on the strength of a solid effort by Conor Skea. The 6-2, junior guard/forward poured in a team-high 16 points on the evening and played especially well in the second half. Skea scored 11 points in the final two periods which helped to erase Millburn's lead. The teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 38-38.
The final period was all Millburn. The Millers controlled all aspects of play and slowly put down the Red Devils' threat by making key shots in clutch situations and most importantly, the Millers made their free throws in the final two minutes when Ridge was forced to foul to stop the clock. Rosenberg again came up big in the fourth quarter as he hit six of his ten shots from the charity stripe during the final minute and a half of the game.
Because they executed the most fundamental of all shots on the basketball court, the Millers were able to fend off Ridge's late push and keep them at bay. Rosenberg didn't do it alone, despite a huge 22-point, 15-rebound effort. Without Kizel's 13 points and six points each from Max Miller and Adam Whitten, the Millers wouldn't have been able to upend the white-hot Red Devils. Kizel played a great all-around game for head coach Roger Blind as he also contributed six assists, four rebounds and two steals.
Ridge hadn't lost since dropping a January 16th game to Passaic, another impressive footnote to the Millers' big win on Monday night. Millburn will be back in action on Wednesday night against West Side as they look to push one step closer to a magical 20-win season.