MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville boys basketball team was terrifyingly close to seeing its Morris County Tournament run end on Saturday.
Despite leading for most of the second half, the final minutes included several opportunities for Montville to effectively put the game away. But it wasn't able to take advantage of those opportunities, and a game Morris Tech squad did all it could to make the Mustangs sweat right up until the final buzzer.
And once Morris Tech's last-second three-point attempt at the buzzer hit the rim and bounced out, Montville's bench could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Montville, the 13th seed, earned a thrilling 56-54 win over 20th seed Morris Tech in Morris County Tournament preliminary round action Saturday at Montville Township High School.
The win advances Montville to the first round, where it will travel to face fourth seed Mountain Lakes next Saturday.
“We know that county games are different, and they always have a different atmosphere," senior Mike Sesko, who netted 13 points, said. "Obviously we feel like we didn’t play our best today. It definitely felt like we escaped, but we’ll take a win any way we can get in this tournament because they’re tough to come by.”
Right from the beginning, Montville found itself in trouble, as it struggled in the first quarter and the opening minutes of the second quarter, and found itself in a 19-5 hole. But it turned up the intensity on defense, and the shots began to fall. It went on a 20-2 run to close out the first half, and took a 25-21 lead into halftime.
Mike Sesko was key during that second quarter, as he knocked down three 3-pointers and accounted for 11 of his team's 20 points in the quarter.
“I think we use the first quarter a lot just to settle into the game and figure out how we’re going to play," Sesko said. "Once we get comfortable, once that ball goes in the basket once, it starts to fall like rain.”
But no matter how many times it felt like Montville had control of the game, Morris Tech kept finding ways to take the momentum back. Montville took a six-point lead going into the fourth quarter, and maintained that lead early on thanks to a pair of threes from sophomore Danny Arena.
“(Morris Tech) showed a lot of heart, really," Sesko said. "We made a run, and then they kept pushing back. I think what really made the difference was our sophomore, Danny Arena, came off the bench and hit three clutch threes and 2-for-2 from the free throw line, that really gave us the spark we needed.”
Morris Tech however, went on a 7-0 run to take a 46-44 lead with just over three minutes left. Anthony Ferrare- who hit the game-winning shot against Hanover Park just two days ago- came through for Montville, as he hit back-to-back threes as part of his team-high 14 points, giving Montville a lead that it never relinquished.
“It was good to finally make some shots," Ferrare said. "They went triangle and two on Mike and I, so it was nice to finally get some space there at the end of the game.”
The final minutes provided plenty of stress for the Montville faithful, as one possession which could have ended the game saw it fail to manage the clock effectively, as it went right to the basket and came up empty, opening the door for Morris Tech to get back in it, which they did with a 3-pointer in the final minute to cut the deficit to three.
Then, with 1.4 showing on the clock, Montville had to inbound the ball, but the down-court heave hit the stanchion on the ceiling, giving Morris Tech one last chance at the buzzer.
“Against a better team, those mistakes are definitely going to hurt us," Sesko said. "We can’t keep doing that. We have to be better with the ball.”
Ferrare added, “We learned that anything can happen. Thankfully that last shot didn’t go in, because that would’ve ended our tournament run in the first round. It’s a game of bounces, a game of rolls, and a game of luck.”
C.J. Arena scored 12 points for Montville in the win, while Danny Arena finished with 11. The win improved Montville to 9-5 on the season, and more importantly, kept its Morris County Tournament run alive.
“We know we have to clean some stuff up, but there’s always things you can work on after the game," Ferrare said. "We’re just really happy to be moving on, and we’re starting to get ready for Mountain Lakes right now.”
This week began with Montville dropping a 58-43 decision to Whippany Park on Monday night, a game in which Anthony Ferrare led the way with 15 points. Then, it took down Hanover Park on Thursday, 56-54, as Mike Sesko netted 26 points and Ferrare had 20. Ferrare hit the game-winning shot in the final seconds to secure the win.
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