CHATHAM, NJ - When memories start to fade on the details of Chatham's sectional state championship overtime game with Barringer, those in attendance Monday night will likely remember it as the "Jack Rooney half-court shot game."
In the end, a deflected pass was turned into a fast break and a three-point play by Jazir Clark of Barringer with less than a second left, giving the Newark School the final points in a 56-53 overtime win over Chatham in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state sectional final.
If there was anything to take away from this game for Chatham fans, it was the third quarter when the Cougars turned a five-point deficit into a five-point lead. But it could have been more after Rooney scored his 1,000th career point and then swished in an incredible half-court shot that beat the buzzer to end the third. The three referees, however, soon put a damper on that remarkable shot when they huddled to talk it over and ruled that it would not count.
"Clock didn't start, therefore by rule it doesn't count," Chatham coach Todd Ervin said. "That's what they're saying. Who knows in a game like that. We still had a five-point lead."
If Rooney's shot had counted, it would have culminated a 23-10 quarter and given Chatham (21-7) a 48-40 lead entering the final quarter.
"The clock was late, yes, but the shot got off before 2.1 seconds," Chatham senior Graham LeMon said. "At least give us the 2.1 seconds if you're going to take away the three, which should have counted, but they didn't. You got to live with it and control what you can control."
Barringer (19-10) had scored first in the third quarter to up its lead to 27-20, but Chatham started to attack down low with the 6-6 LeMon, who scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the period.
"We knew coming in they were going to be a similar team to Orange," LeMon said. "They had a few less bigs, which meant they could get out into the lane faster. There were some times they were pushing it and just beating us down the floor because of their quickness."
But not in the third quarter when Chatham took over the game for most of the eight minutes. LeMon started it by scoring off a pass from Mac Bredahl and Rooney followed with a 3-pointer that pushed his career point total to 1,001. LeMon followed with two baskets and a foul shot to counter a 3-pointer by Barringer's Sadiq Griggs, forging a 30-30 tie.
Bredahl then hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 38-30 lead and, with 37 seconds left in the quarter, LeMon sank two foul shots go give the Cougars a 40-32 edge. Luis Curiel's three-point play for the Blue Bears cut it to 40-35 with 2.1 seconds showing. But the sold-out home crowd erupted when Rooney hit his half-court shot.
"I don't know why it didn't count," Rooney said. "I took one dribble and I was right at half court. You can't blame that shot on the loss, but you wonder how things would have turned out. A five-point game to an eight-point game is a huge difference, a huge difference."
Barringer opened the fourth quarter with a 7-1 burst to grab a 42-41 edge before Rooney drove the lane to regain the lead and Bredahl drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Cougars a 46-42 cushion. But a late surge by Barringer put the Blue Bears up, 51-48, with 1:20 to go. Enter Rooney, who nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:11 showing, forcing the overtime.
Rooney, who finished with 15 points, sank both ends of a one-and-one situation to make it 53-53 with 2:44 left in the extra session. A blocked shot by Bredahl and two missed free throws by Barringer kept the score tied and Chatham wound up with possession and called time with 19 seconds left.
"We wanted Mac to get in the lane and hopefully find somebody," Ervin said. "He had Graham open, he just didn't get him the ball."
Barringer deflected the pass away and Clark sped down court for his winning layup.
"I'll look back and realize it was a great accomplishment (1,000 points)," Rooney said. "Right now I'm just totally bummed that we lost. Mac played his heart out. He played great. It was just unlucky, that's all I can say. We can run that play 100 times and 99 times we get a pass or a shot off and the one time it got deflected. That's all I can say. We had our chances."
No one could have expected this Chatham team to get back to the state sectional final for the third straight year, after going 28-2 last season and losing four starters to graduation.
"Overall I'm still proud of everybody on the team," Cougar senior forward John Burkard said. "Going into the season, nobody thought we were going to do much, but we proved everyone wrong. We won the conference, we won the county and we came back here again."
"Everyone has a couple plays they wish they could have back," LeMon said. "I can thnk of three or four plays of my own. It is what it is. We had a great season and I'm proud of everyone on the team and how far we got."
Mac Bredahl dribbles out of a tight spot and passes to Graham LeMon for a reverse layup
Mac Bredahl hits the first of two straight 3-pointers in the third quarter
It looked like it was going to be Chatham's night when Graham LeMon got some help from Barringer to score this basket in the third quarter
COUGAR NOTES: For the second straight state tournament game, a third-quarter buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Chatham didn't count. On Saturday, Chris Conlin's 3-pointer against Orange didn't count, again being waved off by the referees because of a clock issue. There were only point-3 seconds left when Ryan Doherty in-bounded the ball to Conlin and it is deemed too little time to catch and shoot. The ball would have had to be tipped out of the air to count ... Rooney heads into his senior year with 1,008 points and a chance to top Billy Oliver's all-time Chatham boys mark of 1,310 points ... It was the third straight loss in the sectional final for Chatham, having lost to Colonia two years ago and in double-overtime to Warren last season.