RANDOLPH, NJ - In case Chatham boys basketball followers were wondering what the Cougars would do for an encore after their quadruple-overtime win at Millburn on Thursday, the resounding answer came in the Morris County Tournament semifinals on Saturday night.
Guard Jack Rooney set the tone early and backcourt mate Mac Bredahl made a scintillating return from a one-game absence as No. 3 seed Chatham played its most complete team game of the season in its shocking 70-39 victory over No. 2 seed Randolph at the County College of Morris.
Chatham (17-5), winner of seven straight, tries to defend its 2016 MCT title when it takes on No. 1 seed Morristown-Beard (21-3) for the championship on Saturday at CCM. The Crimson earned their spot in the final on a buzzer-beating jumper by Raphael Castillo to edge Morristown, 52-51, in the second game of the semifinal doubleheader.
Just 21 seconds into the game, Cougar forward Graham LeMon pulled down a rebound and rolled his ankle when he landed on the foot of Randolph guard Chris Cheng. LeMon had to be helped off the court and the Rams appeared to have an early advantage inside with their 6-10 center Luke Nathan.
But Chatham never missed a beat, hitting its first four shots of the game and bolting to an 11-0 lead it never relinquished. Bredahl started it by dropping in a pull-up jumper and Rooney picked up where he left off in the Millburn game when he made the winning shot in the fourth overtime period. Rooney created his own opening by dribbling in for a foul-line jumper and then effortlessly drained a 3-pointer from the right wing on the next trip down the court.
"That was still frightening (when LeMon went down), but Kyle (Kology) came in from the bench," Bredahl said. "We know that anyone on our bench has the ability to step up. Rooney came out firing and that kind of made them have to guard him on the perimeter. Rooney opened it up for everyone else."
Senior forward John Burkard scored two inside baskets, the second on a pass from LeMon, who made a quick recovery from his injury. The 6-6 LeMon made a sharp bounce pass to Burkard while saving the ball from going out of bounds. Burkard's finish made it 11-0 with 4:06 left in the first period.
"Jack played great in the first three or four minutes to carry us and we got that lead and we just never let it go," Chatham coach Todd Ervin said. "We've been playing well lately and we're much more confident."
Randolph (16-6) scored its first points on a 3-pointer by Mario Haklaj with 3:46 to go in the first. The Cougars closed out the opening period when Donnie McAuliffe fed Ryan Doherty, who dropped in his 3-pointer from the left corner with 29 seconds left for a 16-8 lead.
Bredahl finished with a game-high 18 points, but no one knew how effective he would be since he battled lower back pain the whole week and sat for the Millburn game.
"He didn't practice all week," Ervin said. "He practiced a little (Friday). if he could play two minutes, we'd take it. Whatever it was. We weren't really sure what is was going to be. He looked great."
The back problems Bredahl battled throughout the week, soon became a pain that Randolph had to endure as the junior guard shot and handled the ball in ways that defy description.
The highlight may have been the front-to-back-to-front dribble between his legs that he used to squeeze between two defenders, leap into the air and finish with a no-look pass to Chris Conlin, who hit the 3-pointer with one second left in the third period. That made the score 52-26 heading into the fourth quarter.
"Up to me, there was no chance I would miss this game," Bredahl said. "I was planning on playing all week. I tightened up in our game Monday (vs. Scotch Plains) and I was having back spasms all week. It hurts throughout the game, but my teammates give me the confidence. I just played like I like to play and it worked out.
"We knew what they were going to do and we had a good game plan. We just wanted it really bad. It was a game we weren't going to lose and we showed that."
Mac Bredahl talks about his return from a back injury to lead Chatham with 18 points vs. Randolph
In addition to Bredahl's 18 points, Rooney hit for 14, LeMon had 11 and Burkard 10. There were also key contributions made by Conlin and Doherty, who hit two 3-pointers and ended with eight points.
"We all have the confidence in the team to step up," Rooney said. "When you're passing the ball, you want the other person to shoot it. We're playing good at the right time and that's all we can ask for."
Bredahl hit two 3-pointers in the second period, the latter on a pass from Rooney that fell through with two seconds left and handed Chatham a 26-15 lead at the break.
"Oh my gosh, every time he passes up a shot everyone gets so mad," Rooney said. " 'C'mon Mac shoot the damn ball.' He has a great shot. Sometimes he passes up shots and distributes the ball. I'm not worried about Mac when it comes to big games. I know he won't let the injury affect him."
The Cougars overwhelmed the Rams in the third period connecting on eight of 10 shots from the floor and outscoring Randolph, 26-11. Bredahl hit a driving one-hander that he turned into a 3-point play when he was fouled and later hit his third 3-pointer of the game. LeMon converted a 3-point play and had seven points in the period while Doherty and Conlin each hit a 3-pointer.
Graham LeMon makes the shot and follows with the bonus free throw to make it 39-21 for the Cougars in the third period
COUGAR NOTES: The Cougars haven't lost since their 50-42 setback to Randolph on Jan. 25 ... Chatham lost at Morristown-Beard, 69-62, on Jan. 13 ... The 70 points the Cougars put up in the MCT semifinal were the second-most points they scored this season, short of the 76 points put up against Parsippany Hills on Jan. 11 ... The Cougars hit seven 3-pointers in the game and outrebounded the Rams, 26-12 ... Chatham will be playing in its third straight MCT final and seeking its second straight and fourth overall county title. Coach Todd Ervin's teams won the MCT in 2007, 2012 and 2016.