PATERSON, NJ - The John F. Kennedy High School basketball squad notched a convincing victory over Ridgewood to capture the NJSIAA North 1, Group 4 sectional state final Tuesday.
Running their season record to 27-3, the Knights utilized a relentless fast break to gradually pull away from the visiting Maroons in the second quarter and blow the game open in the second half to capture their first sectional crown in 22 years.
Action remained tense throughout and from the very start it was clear that there would be no social distancing as both squads slapped on tight man-to-man defenses.
Ridgewood controlled the opening tip and drew first blood with a score.
The Maroons hit pay dirt again as forward Jared Powers sliced through the lane and converted a running banker. The Knights got on the board via a nice 10-foot jumper by guard Mark Heber. Heber then found fellow senior center Jalen Hargrove at the low post who pivoted, dribbled once, and sank a successful baby hook. After the JFK defense forced a traveling violation and Hargrove blocked a shot, the Maroons nailed a long three-pointer. Paterson senior guard Deishon Harrison then picked a pocket by his own free throw line, dribbled the length of the court, and cashed in a fast break layup. Powers then initially fumbled a full court outlet pass but recovered to score, Heber answering for the Knights by beating his man to the bucket for two.
Following a double dribble by Ridgewood, Hargrove attempted a rare outside shot from the right base line. The attempt rolled off the rim but Kennedy retained possession after a tie-up in the paint. With 3:47 left in the first quarter, the Knights led by a score of 11-8.
Paterson’s junior forward Kyle Readus then delivered a perfect pass to sophomore Jayquan Briggs whose full throttle, length of the court excursion netted two points. Not to be outdone, Harrison cruised the hardwood and scored on a spectacular, twisting, turning layup. Two successful free throws by the Maroons were followed with JFK succumbing to the Maroons’ half-court trap but the visitors from Bergen County being tagged for palming.
The Maroons were able to solve the Knights’ full court pressure following a pair of successes from the charity stripe by Harrison but the latter then scored on a creative spin move. Heber notched a short jumper in the paint but the Maroons broke up an attempted bounce pass to Hargrove at the low post and scored on a long three-pointer. After JFK sophomore Yasen Crawford knocked away a Ridgewood pass, Heber calmly sank a long trey from the left wing. However, Ridgewood guard DJ Sullivan answered with a sensational drive through heavy traffic in the lane.
With 6:20 left in the second frame, Crawford and Ridgewood senior point guard Devin Johnson engaged in a fierce duel as Johnson was called for throwing an elbow driving to the basket while being closely guarded by Crawford. Heber then juked and jived into the lane from the left wing, was fouled while shooting, and sank both free throw attempts. Hargrove followed by muscling in from the low post for two off the glass.
In one of the highlight plays of the night, a scintillating shot rejection by Crawford, who came from behind to stymie a Ridgewood fast break layup attempt, elicited a deafening roar from the capacity, standing room only crowd. However, Heber, while bringing the ball up court, was hounded by Sullivan and turned the ball over. Up by 15 points with the first half clock winding down, Kennedy forward Ja-hami Carnegie miraculously escaped a Ridgewood trap resulting in a successful short jumper by Hargrove.
Final JFK crowd pleasing scores included a textbook fast break from Harrison to Briggs and a put back score from underneath by senior teammate Bre’quan Moore. Harrison provided the finishing touches by swishing three out of four free throws after Ridgewood was whistled for a technical and by holding the ball by the top of the key until five clicks of the clock remained. A dazzling drive to the bucket followed in which the floor general eluded a defender by the free throw line, did the same to another in the lane, and scored on a left-handed banker at the buzzer resulting in the halftime score: Paterson 43-Kennedy 18.
The second half saw the Knights expand their lead as Head Coach Tommie Patterson was content to clear out the lane and have Harrison take his man one-on-one from the top of the key. Time and time again, Harrison would drive and either score or kick out to a teammate on the perimeter for an assist.
Despite the deficit, the Marrons continued to battle, led by Powers who, early in the third frame, pulled up for a successful 10-foot jumper. However, Harrison notched a pair of free throws and followed by driving the lane and dumping off to Hargrove for an easy basket. Crawford converted on a fast break convoy forcing Maroons’ Head Coach Mike Troy to call a timeout. Shortly thereafter, a dramatic steal by Ridgewood senior Matt Favieri at half court was followed by a long three-pointer from the left corner by Sullivan. However, Harrison again drove into the paint and kicked out to Heber who canned a long three-pointer from deep in the left corner at the buzzer.
The final period was inaugurated by Powers who slipped behind the JFK defense for an easy two. The Knights responded with two free throws by Briggs and a 10-foot runner by Crawford. Carnegie followed by intercepting a pass at half court and completing a three-point play. A nice spin move and score by Hargrove from the left, low post was complemented by another Carnegie fast break success. As the game neared conclusion, Powers swished a long trey from beyond the key but it was too little, too late, for the Maroons. With 2:22 left in the contest, both coaches emptied their benches to pave the way for the final 74-44 score and victory for the Knights.
Harrison led the Knights’ scoring parade with 20 points. Heber followed with 20 and Briggs added 10 more. Hargrove and Crawford chipped in with six apiece while Carnegie finished with five tallies and Moore contributed four. Hargrove and Moore grabbed seven and six rebounds, respectively, and Readus garnered three steals. Moore also rejected five shots. The Maroons were led by Powers with 16 points, center Triston Winnersten with 12, and Sullivan with eight.
Kennedy moves on to the state semifinals and will face off against highly ranked Elizabeth Thursday at the Dunn Center in Elizabether, tipoff at 7:00 p.m.
The Minutemen claimed the Section 2, Group 4 title with a 56-54 victory over Watching Hills.
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