Sophomore guard Phillip Wheeler of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School is gaining a lot of valuable experience amid the boys’ basketball team’s state title run.
“This is a great opportunity to learn on the fly in an important atmosphere,” Wheeler said. “You can’t beat this.”
En route to an appearance in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 2 tournament championship game against Carteret High School on March 5 in Rumson, the Bulldogs have achieved three impressive victories as the section’s top seed.
Rumson-Fair Haven started with a 71-47 victory over North Plainfield High School in the first round on Feb. 27 in Rumson. Wheeler led the way with 13 points.
The Bulldogs followed with a quarterfinals victory over Spotswood High School, 71-63, on March 1 in Rumson. Junior Jackson McCarthy and Wheeler each had 16 points in the game. Senior guard Ian O’Connor led the team with 18 points, and senior center Elijah McAllister had eight points and 11 rebounds.
Wheeler learned some valuable lessons in this victory. He was pulled several times for lack of defensive intensity. And although he was frustrated at the time, he understood why the moves were made.
“It shows me that I need to play more defense,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t play good defense today. I need to get better at communicating more on that end, and I’ll be fine.”
The team as a whole also learned a valuable lesson. The Bulldogs gave up a big lead in the middle of the fourth quarter, leaving them up by only seven points with about four minutes left in the game. They were able to settle back into a more comfortable lead in the final moments to win the game.
“In the beginning, we just came out firing,” Wheeler said. “In the second half, we kind of took our foot off the pedal because we thought we were up a lot more than we were. Luckily, we were able to right the ship and get the job done.”
Rumson-Fair Haven built off these lessons to score a 59-49 victory over Bordentown Regional High School in the semifinals on March 3 in Rumson. O’Connor was the Bulldogs’ top scorer with 23 points while also posting 10 rebounds. Wheeler had 10 points and eight rebounds, and McAllister snagged 15 rebounds and had seven blocks.
The Bulldogs took a 24-2 record into the championship game.
“Our main goal is to keep advancing in states,” Wheeler said.