The Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School boys’ basketball team rebounded from an early loss behind a balanced attack during its 58-48 victory over Middletown High School South.
That victory attained by Rumson-Fair Haven on its home court on Jan. 2 came off the Bulldogs’ 48-43 setback to a state power, Saint Peter’s Prep of Jersey City, on Dec. 29. The victory over Middletown South improved Rumson-Fair Haven to 4-1 on the season.
The Bulldogs struggled early against Middletown South, scoring only eight points in the first quarter. But Rumson-Fair Haven began to sink its 3-point shots and pulled away for the victory.
Junior Ian O’Connor led the Bulldogs with 22 points and six rebounds, while junior Jackson McCarthy and senior Jack Solano contributed with 11 points each.
Rumson-Fair Haven was also sparked by the inside force of senior Elijah McAllister, who registered 13 blocks and 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 McAllister scored two points.
Rumson-Fair Haven coach Chris “Shempy” Champeau praised the way McAllister dominated and how his team recovered after shooting poorly to start the game.
“First of all, we’re talking about one of the best football recruits in the country going to Vanderbilt next year,” Champeau said of McAllister and his college decision. “Tonight, I loved watching him block what felt like 25 shots. It was unbelievable. I think he’s the best defensive shot blocker in the state, bar none. The timing is unbelievable. He never runs out of energy.
“I like how we were missing threes, but it never got us down. We must have missed 20 wide-open looks, but we never hung our head. We played tough defense, and by the second half, the shots started to fall a little, and we were able to push the ball in the second half. The guys stayed tough.”
McAllister agreed that the Bulldogs’ defensive efforts played a critical role in them staying in the game.
“The biggest thing is like Shemps said, the shots weren’t falling, but he always tells us it starts on the defensive end,” McAllister said. “So, even though the shots weren’t falling, and we weren’t hitting them the way we normally do, we were still diving on the floor, getting tough rebounds and working hard. Even though we didn’t shoot well at first, we did what we had to do to win.”
McAllister and Champeau both know that the offense will have to start hitting shots if the Bulldogs want to successfully defend their Central Jersey, Group 2 state sectional tournament title.
“We want to get our chemistry down on offense still,” McAllister said. “We’re still trying to work that in. It’ll come. We just have to keep our energy level up and keep diving on the floor and do the little things to keep us in ball games in the meantime.”
“We took a tough loss to [St.] Peter’s Prep on [Dec. 29],” Champeau said. “We were right in there with the state power that they are, so I’d like to grow on that. Take the lessons from that and make some moves in the right direction.”
The Bulldogs followed up their victory over Middletown South with another successful outing against Christian Brothers Academy, topping the Colts, 46-43, at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft on Jan. 6. O’Connor led the way for Rumson-Fair Haven, which improved to 5-1, by posting 24 points — 22 of which were scored in the second half — along with 11 rebounds for the double-double.
The Bulldogs were scheduled to visit Holmdel High School on Jan. 9 before hosting Shore Regional High School on Jan. 12 for a game at 7 p.m.
Rumson-Fair Haven finished 24-3 last season after the Bulldogs were defeated by Camden High School, 65-49, in the Group 2 state semifinals. Camden then fell to West Side High School of Newark in the Group 2 state final.
Middletown South, which fell to 3-4 after the defeat to Rumson-Fair Haven, was paced by senior David Gervase, who collected 14 points and eight rebounds against the Bulldogs. Ryan Purcell and Nick Unrath each had eight points for the Eagles.
Middletown South coach Jim Anderson and Gervase loved how the Eagles competed, pointing out that their toughness is what makes the team go.
“We don’t quit,” Anderson said. “We’re a tough out. We knew Rumson is the best team in Monmouth County. They’re the best in the Shore [Conference], and they’re the best in the county. We knew if we played a tough game, we had a shot. Once their shots started falling, we got in trouble. But we’re proud of our effort. We were ahead for most of the first half; we just couldn’t pull it out.”
“We didn’t quit,” Gervase said. “We’re getting better every day. We just got to put it all together, and we’ll be fine.”
Anderson thinks the team is close, but it just needs to improve on a few fundamentals to win.
“We got to rebound better,” Anderson said. “We got to get those 50/50 balls, like you say in soccer. And we have to shoot the ball better. We had some open looks that we didn’t knock down, and they started to knock theirs down toward the end. That’s how it works sometimes. The team that makes the shots wins.”
Middletown South rebounded quickly from the loss in a road win at Manalapan High School on Jan. 6. Purcell led the way in the 62-45 victory with a double-double, notching 23 points and 11 rebounds — both game-highs — to get the Eagles back to .500 on the season with a 4-4 record.
Middletown South looked to string a few wins together when they visited Howell High School in a matchup scheduled against the Rebels on Jan. 8. The Eagles were also scheduled to square off with their town rival, Middletown High School North, at home on Jan. 9. They visit Red Bank Catholic High School on Jan. 12 for a game at 6:45 p.m.