CHATHAM, NJ - Perhaps it's the kind of wakeup call the Chatham boys basketball team needs as it readies itself for the Morris County Tournament.
The Cougars wiped away the sweat from their collective brows on Tuesday night after a 54-53 squeaker over Morristown-Beard, which never should have been that close. Chatham coach Todd Ervin warned his players afterward that they "better come to play" Friday when Morris Catholic visits for the opening round of the MCT.
After building a 16-point lead in the second quarter, Chatham turned the ball over seven times in the third quarter and limped into the fourth quarter with a five-point edge. The Cougars managed to hold off the Crimson by hitting clutch free throws down the stretch, including two by Cam Rooney with 4.2 seconds showing.
"That's been our Achilles heel all year, not even getting shots," Ervin said of the third quarter. "Turning it over and giving up second shots. It's not like we don't practice it. We'll just keep working at it, that's all we can do."
Chatham stood on the brink of a devastating loss when Morristown-Beard (5-8) in-bounded the ball with 8.8 seconds left trailing, 52-51, and 6-6 Ian Imegwu put up a 3-pointer for the Crimson that was defended by Cougar Andrew Bergman (see below). The shot missed and Rooney grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He sank two free throws for a 54-51 lead.
Morristown-Beard had closed to within 46-44 with 1:30 left when Chatham's sharpshooting at the line and Bergman's big rebound allowed the Cougars to close it out.
James Platek hit both ends of a one-and-one with 1:16 left, Rooney did the same with 45 seconds to go. But when Rooney had a rare miss at the line with 17.9 seconds left, Bergman grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He sank both ends of one-and-one for a 52-49 lead.
Andrew Bergman and Cam Rooney talk about the win below
Chatham looked like it was on the way to a blowout win in the first half with E.J. Leskauskas scoring 14 of his team-high 18 points and Bergman hitting for 10 of his 14 points.
E.J. Leskauskas hits a jump shot in the third quarter for Chatham
The Cougars had put together a 15-6 run in the second quarter, highlighted by two straight 3-pointers by Leskauskas and one by Rooney that pushed the lead to 31-15.
But the turnovers in the third quarter kept the Crimson hanging around. Bergman's basket off a feed by Luke Fekete (see below) and Leskauskas' alley-oop basket off an in-bound pass from Jack Casano-Boris allowed the Cougars to limp into the fourth with a 42-37 lead.
Casano-Boris came off the bench late in the third quarter to help minimize the turnovers with his ballhandling and scored his only points with a clutch 3-pointer in the fourth (see below) that staked Chatham to a 45-37 lead.
COUGAR NOTES: Cougar guard Cam Rooney finally missed a free throw after making 19 straight over a span of seven games. The sophomore made up for it by hitting a 3-pointer five seconds after his miss. He also drained five free throws in the final 45 seconds to help seal the win ... Andrew Bergman was 6-for-6 from the line for the Cougars ... Guard Justin Axelrod of Morristown-Beard led all scorers with 30 points, hitting 15 of 16 free throws ... Chatham (9-6) will play host to Morris Catholic (2-12), 7 p.m. Friday in a Morris County Tournament preliminary game. Morris Catholic snapped an 11-game losing streak with a 44-42 win over Madison on Tuesday. Morris Catholic's other win was a 73-66 decision over New Providence. Chatham lost to New Providence this season, 68-59.