PATERSON, NJ - The John F. Kennedy High School basketball squad took the floor in the first round of the North 1, Group 4 state playoffs with a #1 seed Tuesday. Their opponent, visiting West Orange, came in with a #16 placement. However, the seeming disparity in selection proved anything but, as the Mountaineers gave the Knights all they could handle.
The final winning margin of 67-50 did not reflect the actual closeness of competition.
JFK was bolstered by Jalen Hargrove who returned to the starting lineup after serving a two game suspension. Complementing the senior center in Head Coach Tommie Patterson’s starting lineup were the familiar faces of seniors Deishon Harrison and Mark Heber, alongside sophomores Jayquan Briggs and Yasen Crawford. West Orange Head Coach Mark Cacciacarne countered by starting three seniors and a pair of juniors.
The Knights controlled the opening tipoff against the man-to-man defense of West Orange. The shooting of both teams was ice-cold for the first several minutes until Kennedy got on board following a steal by Heber. However, the Mountaineers answered with a 10-foot runner by junior guard Max Dent. Soon thereafter, Hargrove was fouled in the paint and dropped in both offerings from the charity stripe. The Mountaineers replied with a free throw of their own but then threw the ball away on what should have been an easy, fast break score.
West Orange senior center Ismail Taylor was the first of three Mountaineers’ big men assigned to guard Hargrove at the low post. Despite the frequent substitution, JFK’s big man controlled the boards and scored often.
As play continued, Kennedy senior Jamahl Carnegie, from under his own basket, alertly found Crawford on an inbounds pass. The resulting three-pointer from deep in the right corner was on the money. Next, it was West Orange sophomore Elijah Garris who proceeded to commit a traveling violation while attempting to confront Hargrove. The Knights capitalized on a Hargrove to Carnegie to Heber successful 20-footer from the right wing. Hargrove followed by slipping behind the W.O. defense for an easy two off the glass. The score resulted in a 13-2 lead for JFK with 44 seconds left in the frame.
Heber then drove deep into the paint and dumped off to junior Kyle Readus who was fouled in the act of shooting and converted one of two freebies. A successful charity stripe offering by senior guard Gustov Hall of West Orange saw the score read 13-3, advantage Kennedy, as the buzzer sounded.
The second eight-minute time period was inaugurated by two free throws by Briggs following a defensive rebound and outlet pass by Readus. Hargrove then delighted the Kennedy faithful by picking up a loose rebound, dribbling the length of the floor, and scoring on a lay-up banker. However, the Mountaineers’ Dent quickly answered with a spectacular give-and-go drive from the left wing. West Orange was called for traveling on an athletic drive to the bucket which may have been overlooked in NBA play. Briggs then provided a scintillating coast-to-coast score in which he eluded a defender at the last moment.
With 5:29 left in the half, Carnegie fell hard to the floor but was able to limp to the sideline and return to the game in the second half. With sophomore Jesus Romero in the lineup for the Knights, West Orange’s Garris stole a pass at the low post which led to a three-point play for the Mountaineers. Following an offensive foul called on Briggs while dribbling, Moore drove from the right wing and curled down the baseline for a W.O. score.
As game intensity grew, Moore missed a dunk attempt but Hargrove was whistled for a foul after which the Mountaineers’ senior Chris Latimer drained a 15-footer. The score resulted in Kennedy’s once ten- point lead being whittled to five. Harrison and Hall then traded three-point bombs which preceded, perhaps, the play of the game.
The Mountaineers’ Moore careened into the lane at full throttle. Speeding bullet-meet immovable object. The West Orange floor leader crashed into Hargrove who stood, firmly, planted in the lane. The former literally bounced off while the latter barely moved. Much to the surprise and dismay of JFK fans, Hargrove was tagged with the foul.
West Orange completed their spectacular comeback with a put back from senior Chris Latimer and a buzzer beating bucket to pull within 30-26.
The second half provided more thrills and spills as the Mountaineers kept pace until the very last minutes of the contest. The visitors from Essex County drew first blood with a put back but Harrison converted a 3-point play on a drive from right of the key. However, West Orange answered with a textbook fast break score from Hall to Dent.
As the third quarter progressed, Hall escaped a JFK trap and fired a cross lane pass to Moore who converted a three-pointer from deep in the corner. However, Harrison came right back by picking a pocket at midcourt and another West Orange three-pointer was doused by a traveling violation.
Pressure mounting, the inquiry, “Who You Gonna Call?” was apparent for the Knights. As has been their custom, the Knights turned to none other than Harrison to bust their opponent. The ship’s captain turned in yet another spectacular fourth quarter to lead the Knights to victory. In addition, Hargrove had earlier picked up his third foul which forced Paterson’s Patterson to sit his senior center. However, Carnegie was able to valiantly pick up the slack in the paint after being moved from his power forward position.
After Moore knocked down a long trey from deep in the left corner, the Mountaineers cut the lead to two points. That is when Harrison took over, first by juking right, dribbling left, and pulling up for a 20-foot stop-and-pop. Harrison and Carnegie then teamed up for a successful fast break convoy. Soon thereafter, with a more sizable lead, Carnegie and Readus both passed up open shots in deference to ball control and running time off the clock. The unselfish play led to a wide open layup by Readus.
Further scores by Carnegie and Harrison led to a Knights’ parade to the free throw line which resulted in the final 67-50 score.
Harrison led the Knights with 24 points while Briggs notched 13 tallies and Hargrove added 10. Moore led the Mountaineers with 13.
The Knights continue their quest for a state championship on Thursday with tipoff at 6:00 p.m.