NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ -- Most of the members of last year's graduated Group 1 state champion New Providence boys basketball team were among those in the large crowd for the new-look Pioneers' opening day game Monday afternoon.
And New Providence gamely battled back from not one, but two fairly deep deficits, but the second rally fell just short, as the Pioneers lost their first game, 73-66, to Morris Catholic.
Senior point guard Sean Dillon, the lone remaining starter from the 2019 Group 1 title team, turned in a frequently spectacular effort with 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists to lead four Pioneers who scored in double digits.
Carsten Schumm finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Owen Kovacs and Nick Bisaccia each scored 11 points for New Providence.
The Pioneers fell into an early 11-2 hole as Morris Catholic (1-1) sank three 3-pointers in the first few minutes. Cattano, however, never called a timeout in that stretch, and his team was able to find its way back into the game and then even into the lead fairly quickly, outscoring Morris Catholic, 25-12, to take a 27-23 lead early in the second quarter. Dillon, exploiting Morris Catholic with his dribble penetration, had eight points and three assists during that Pioneer run.
"Sean knows what his role is," Cattano said of his senior playmaker, who subjugated much of his own offense the last couple of years to feed his array of talented teammates. "He can get good looks, shoot, pass the ball and get to the rim."
Dillon did all of those things during the course of the game, saving what was perhaps his biggest play for the final two minutes. Morris Catholic, ahead, 37-33, at the half, opened the second half as hot as it had the first half--only this time, damaging the Pioneers with its inside game rather than perimeter shots--and built a lead as large as 58-45 early in the fourth quarter.
But New Providence unleashed its second sustained run of the game, rallying with a 15-4 run to close to within 62-60 with 1:22 to go. Dillon was fouled going up, sank the first free throw but missed the second. However, junior center Schumm kept the rebound alive, Dillon came up with the loose ball along the baseline and went in for a layup to cut Morris Catholic's lead to two.
"I was pleased with the effort," Cattano said. "We were down 13 and made a nice comeback. Morris Catholic played and shot very well. We do have a lot of things to work on. I think we can get a lot better on defense. But the effort was good."
New Providence never tied the game, coming within two one more time in the last 1:03 before the visitors sank nine of 10 foul shots to seal the verdict.