CHATHAM, NJ - It's not far-fetched to say that the half-court shots put up during the halftime fundraiser seemed to fall easier than the much closer ones taken during the game between Chatham and Mendham on Tuesday night.
It was that kind of a defensive struggle.
In the end, the Cougars held on to defeat Mendham, 31-30, in the "Believe in a Cure Night" boys basketball game that benefited the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation.
"It's better to win ugly than lose ugly," Chatham coach Todd Ervin said. "Not having Johnny (Maurer) doesn't help. But we just didn't make shots. Missed free throws, missed shots."
Maurer is out with a broken bone in his wrist and will have surgery on Wednesday to repair it. The junior guard is a big part of the offense and he was definitely missed.
"We're obviously down a man," Ervin said. "He just created so much for us offensively. We're going to have to find someone to replace him and it's going to be hard."
Junior Chris Conlin got the start in place of Maurer and he came up with the defensive play (see video) that essentially put the game away for the Cougars (13-5). Mendham (8-9) was down 31-30 when it called timeout with 13 seconds left to set up a chance for a winning shot. But Conlin grabbed the kick-out pass to steal the ball with 6.1 seconds to go.
Cougar guard Mac Bredahl missed the front end of the one-and-one free throw with 4.6 seconds left, but redeemed himself by intercepting the final desperation pass by Mendham as the buzzer sounded.
Bredahl's free throw had given Chatham a 29-28 edge with 3:06 left in the fourth quarter before John Burkard came through with the decisive points with 1:24 showing. The senior forward rebounded a missed shot by Jack Rooney and flipped it back up. The ball bounced three times on the rim before dropping through to make it 31-28.
"It was kind of a lucky shot," Burkard said. "I was just in good position. It was one of the few shots we made tonight."
John Burkard's shot bounces on the rim three times before dropping through with 1:24 left to give Chatha a 31-28 lead
Senior forward Graham LeMon scored eight of his nine points in the first half to help Chatham take a 17-10 lead into halftime. It was a 23-23 tie heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Bredahl drained a 3-pointer from the wing and Rooney (9 points) scored on a back-door pass from Bredahl to hand Chatham a 28-24 edge.
Chris Conlin talks about his big play and the win over Mendham
Chatham meets Delbarton, 2 p.m. Saturday at Randolph High School in the quarterfinal round of the Morris County Tournament. The Cougars have lost two regular-season games to Delbarton this season.