CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham boys varsity basketball team's offensive struggles continued on Saturday, as the Cougars saw their state championship hopes disintegrate at the hands of Irvington High School.
Top-seeded Chatham fell to No. 5 Irvington, 57-43, in the North 2, Group 2 semifinals, ending their 2012-13 season and sending the Blue Knights to the section final against Newark East Side.
"I think they did exactly what we thought, we just didn't handle it well," Chatham head coach Todd Ervin said. "We didn't stop their penetration and we didn't block them out at all. That was the difference I thought in the game."
The Cougars were outscored in every quarter of the game. In the first half alone, the Cougars managed only eight baskets, but found themselves still in the game.
Trailing by three in the final seconds, Chatham gave up a buzzer beating 3-pointer to Nyjai Edmond to send Irvington to the locker room up six points.
In the third, the Cougars managed to pull within a basket following 3-pointers from Sam Carson and Robert Raiola, but Irvington answered with an 8-0 run to go up 10.
In the final seconds of the third, Irvington's Corey Simmons sunk a deep ball to put the Blue Knights up 11. Chatham never got any closer for the remainder of the game.
"Those were huge," Ervin said. "I thought the end of the first half and end of the third quarter, that's six points right there. The end of the third, puts them up eight or nine. If they don't make those two, they're up maybe three. I thought they were huge."
The fourth quarter was highlight reel material for Irvington's Al-Jahaad Bradford. The senior guard, who led all scorers with 20 points, was a force to be reckoned with. He converted on two "And-One" chances, including a swift up-and-under layup to send his team to the section finals against rival East Side.
"I'm happy. That's all I can say. I'm happy," Bradford said. "I've never been here before, so when I'm here, I'm going to try and win it all. I'm not ready to go home yet. Basketball, I love it. Whenever I'm in it, I want to win everything I can."
The Blue Knights ended a very successful season for Chatham. Finishing with a 22-6 record, the Cougars reached the Morris County Final for the second season in a row, while also capturing the No. 1 seed in the North 2, Group 2 tournament.
Now the only problem for Ervin is where does he go from here?
The Cougars will lose seven players to graduation. For a team that goes 10-deep on a daily basis, Chatham will lose 70 percent of its contributors. However, they retain their starting point guard Raiola, who will be a major factor for next year's success.
"They had a great run," Ervin said. "They're a really good group of kids. On top of the fact that they're good players, they're great kids…We have a nice junior class right now, we have a nice sophomore class. It's all going to depend on what they do in the off-season."