RANDOLPH, N.J. - Chatham coach Todd Ervin chewed out his team at halftime on Saturday night.
It was strange because the Cougars were leading Randolph, 26-24, at intermission in the Morris County Tournament semi-finals, but the coach felt that his team was not giving it their all.
"Coach Ervin really fired us up at halftime," Chatham senior guard Scott Baker, who had eight points on the night, said. "We lacked intensity. Randolph definitely had more intensity right out of the gate."
Going into the second half at the County College of Morris, the Cougars were without starting guard Robert Raiola who injured his right knee in the first half.
Despite the injury to Raiola, the Cougars showed their fire and stepped it up in the second half.
Chatham turned away Randolph again in the county semi-final, this time 59-44, as the Cougars pulled away in the fourth quarter, giving the Cougars the rubber match in the three games with Randolph this season.
This was the most intense game and the result is another battle in the final of the Morris County Tournament on next week between Chatham and Mt. Olive, who defeated Morristown in the other semifinal on Saturday.
"This is huge because I've been playing with all of these guys all of my life," Baker said about especially playing with the six other seniors on the team.
Last season, the Cougars nipped Mt. Olive, 77-75, in the Morris County Tournament final. This year, Chatham is the top seed and the Marauders are the second seed due in part because of the Cougars 71-61 win in their January 5 game.
For the Chatham seniors, Saturday's game against Mt. Olive is very big.
"We just want to win," Chatham senior Joe Timmes said.
Against Randolph on Saturday, the Cougars were led by Timmes with 15 points, while senior guard Sam Carson chipped in 13.
Timmes agreed with Baker about the difference in halves.
"We didn't match their physical play," Timmes said.
Defensively, the key was to stop Randolph senior guard Ryan Harris, who only scored three points in the first half; his minutes were limited because of foul trouble. Harris got his points in the second half, but by then the Cougars had control.
Harris led the Rams with 12 points. In the two games earlier this season between the teams, Harris averaged 20 points.
"At all times we wanted to know where he was," Baker said. "Harris is a great player."
Every time that the Cougars jumped out to a comfortable lead, the Rams would come back, helped by a new source in Thayer Wallace, who had 14 points in the first half. The Chatham defense clamped down on the Randolph forward late in the game; he was held scoreless in the second half.
Randolph actually took the lead, 30-29, after a Harris 3-pointer three minutes into the third quarter.
But Chatham went on a 9-0 run culminating with a pair of free throws from Timmes to give the Cougars a 38-30 lead with 90 seconds left in the third quarter.
Like the other two quarters of the game, Chatham could not pull away.
Randolph sliced the Cougars lead to one, 41-40, after another Harris 3-point bucket with a little less than six minutes in the game.
Again Chatham matched the Rams comeback with a run of their own, this time putting the game away.
The Cougars went go on a 14-0 run, as Carson finished the run with a pair of free throws for a 54-40 lead with a little more than a minute in the game.
Chatham will face Mt. Olive next Saturday's Morris County Tournament final with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m. from the County College of Morris.