MILLBURN, NJ -- Despite a tireless effort by its defense, the West Orange boys basketball team was unable to make up for a futile offensive first quarter.
Millburn shut West Orange out in the opening quarter before the Mountaineers came back and took a fourth quarter lead, only to see Millburn hit big foul shots down the stretch to come away with a 37-33 victory over West Orange Saturday afternoon.
The longer term ramifications of the loss could affect West Orange's status in the Essex County Tournament, which holds its seeding meeting Monday night, and the Section 1, Group 4 state tournament, which doesn't get under way until March 2, but which only counts a team's first 16 results before seeding the brackets. West Orange (4-10) has played 14 games,
The Mountaineers have lost five in a row since beating Barringer, 50-43, on Jan. 16.
Millburn (7-6) outscored West Orange, 10-0, in the first quarter. The Mountaineers scored their first points on a pull-up jumper by Chris Latimer with 7:34 left in the second quarter. But with Millburn ahead, 12-2, West Orange ran off eight straight points to get back in the game. Maxwell Dent hit two driving layups and Amyin Hanks had four points on a pair of free throws and a putback in the run that got West Orange back within two, 12-10, with 1:34 left in the half.
A big problem for coach Demond Cowins' West Orange team was its inability to puncture Millburn's active 2/3 zone defense with any perimeter shots in the first half. Johan Atwell finally solved that problem, at least temporarily, in the third quarter, when he knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers--two of them from NBA range--against the zone to pull West Orange into a 19-19 tie.
An 8-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters gave the Mountaineers a 27-24 lead. Dent converted a driving layup on a fast break into an "and-one" 3-point play, Jermaine James opened the fourth quarter with a rebound basket for West Orange, and then Atwell knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the game after taking a pass from Gustav Hall to give West Orange a 27-24 lead.
Atwell led West Orange in scoring with 12 points on those four treys. As a team, West Orange played a rugged level of man-to-man defense that would have been more than sufficient to win many games--just not ones in which the Mountaineers struggled so much offensively.
Millburn answered West Orange's 27-24 lead by scoring the next seven points to take a 31-27 lead with 3:43 left. The Mountaineers closed to within two, 35-33, with 23 seconds left when Latimer sank one of two free throws. With 12 seconds left, after a West Orange steal at midcourt, Dent missed a 3-pointer from the right corner that would have given West Orange a one-point lead.
Nick Cundey of Millburn sank two free throws with 9.5 ticks left to give the Millers a 37-33 lead.