NEWARK, NJ - In an effort to put their late game troubles behind them, and advance to the Essex County Semifinals for the first time, the Millburn boys basketball team laced up against Newark West Side.
The Millers' Senior Night was tarnished by a devastating buzzer beater by Chatham's Jack Rooney just two nights earlier. With that, and a loss in Verona, the Millers stumbled into their weekend match up against West Side, the strongest opponent they have faced all year.
The Rough Riders, on the other hand, charged into the weekend riding an eight game win streak, dating back to late January.
Millburn's Coach Roger Blind knew that the Millers couldn't afford to run with West Side in transition, and allow the Rough Riders to control the glass, generating multiple opportunities in each possession on the offensive end. That formula was responsible for the eight game sprint the Rough Riders were on.
Out of the gate, the Millers did what they had to do. Zach Ravitz, Will Rosenberg, and Brandon Perry, who came off the bench, out rebounded the much larger Rough Riders. The underdog Millers stuck around, trailing by one through the first quarter.
West Side kicked their full court press into fifth gear in the second quarter, but the Millers were able to thwart it. Going into the game, Coach Blind only practiced the team for 45 minutes, with most of the time reserved for studying film. Meaning, the Millers were prepared for the press.
Going into the halftime intermission, the Millers led by three. Of course, the defense deserved the credit. West Side, who averages 61 points per game, was held to just 20 points in the first half. The Rough Riders' leading scorer, Quayon Williams-King (14), only managed nine points throughout the game.
Millburn was able to stay its course in the third quarter. Zach Ravitz's two third quarter 3FGs created a little more separation for the Millers.
Things were looking good for Millburn heading into the fourth quarter. With a six point lead, the Millers proved to themselves that they were able to stick with West Side, despite the gradually improving Rough Rider rebounding. However, the Millers have struggled late in games throughout the season, especially close contests. With an average loss margin of just three, Millburn wins most of their games by a significant difference.
West Side was able to turn on the jets in the fourth quarter, quickly seizing the six point lead which once comforted Millburn. West Side's Yasim Hooker led the defense with seven steals, one of which ultimately won his team the game. With under a minute to play, Hooker found Kirk Parsons in transition as a direct result of his takeaway. The oppressive West Side defense halted the Millburn offensive, limiting them to just five points in the fourth quarter.
In the end, West Side survived and advanced over Millburn, 42-41, in an instant classic. The Rough Riders will move on to play Columbia on Tuesday the 21st in the Essex County Tournament Semifinals.
Millburn, now on a three game skid, will look to finish strong in their remaining two regular season games before their state tournament run kicks off against Union on the 27th.