Nottingham celebrates after defeating Robbinsville at home on Friday night in the Central Jersey Group III semi-final. (Greg Johnson/Trenton Photo)
HAMILTON — Rarely do high school basketball games come down to one statistic, but in the latest installment of the Robbinsville-Nottingham rivalry, the deciding factor was obvious.
lost the ball
Sixth-seeded Robbinsville turned the ball over in the first half more times (11) than second-seeded Nottingham throughout the game (nine), and the Northstars took advantage of that disparity to win 73-57 on Friday night at the Central. Jersey Group. III men’s basketball semifinals.
“We wanted to speed them up,” Nottingham manager Chris Raba said. “We saw that Hamilton did not accelerate them (in the quarterfinals). They put up a midcourt man (defense), and we knew we just wanted to speed them up, pressure them all over the court. We thought if we could speed them up, we might be too fast for them.”
Robbinsville (17-12) had beaten Nottingham (20-8) in the same gym on Jan. 13 by a score of 58-53, but one player who missed that game was senior point guard TJ Keese.
The Trenton Catholic transfer was not eligible for Nottingham until the following day, and his impact in the rematch was considerable. Keese scored a team-high 22 points on eight field goals and three free throws while playing strong defense against youth point guard Tyler Handy.
Keese said he was aware Handy scored 20 points in Robbinsville’s quarterfinal win, so he took that matchup personally.
“My job was to come here and stop him from scoring,” Keese said. “My plan was to pressure him as soon as he got the ball full court, playing D full court.”
His offense was just as important down the stretch. Robbinsville cut a 28-14 halftime deficit to six points late in the third quarter, and early in the fourth quarter, Keese buried two of his three 3-pointers to help Nottingham increase the lead to 21.
“It’s been a fantastic addition,” Raba said. “He sees the court well, he plays incredible defense and now we have another ball handler on the court. So JP (Dickerson) doesn’t have to have the ball 99 percent of the game, which helps us a lot.”
Keese has embraced playing in Nottingham’s winning culture under Raba’s management.
“They are great companions. When I came, I had to facilitate. It’s a great fit,” Keese said. “He is a great coach. I love playing with him. I learned a lot from him. In practice he teaches me a lot ”.
Senior JP Dickerson added 16 points and junior Donte Alexander had 10. Raba also praised Jacob Dormevil’s performance, as the senior forward also missed the first game but chipped in six points plus various rebounds, blocks and steals in this one.
This will be Nottingham’s first sectional final since 2018 and third in the last six tournaments despite losing current First Team All-CVC player Quiyon McMillan to a football injury. Youth guard Jordan Raba has also missed 12 games.
The veterans have stepped up, the role players are being disinterested, and Keese and junior forward Dom Raymond were key transfers.
“It’s really gratifying to see the kids grow from the first game to now. It’s a constant improvement,” said Chris Raba. “Our guys have really done an amazing job. They all wrote us off as soon as we lost Q, but the team is starting to come together. This is probably, in the last month, the best we’ve been playing defensively. That’s how you win championships.”
Robbinsville coach Conor Hayes agreed that Keese’s defensive pressure affected the Ravens’ ability to execute their offense in the first half, so at halftime, they discussed adjustments to get the ball to the ball. basketball court.
That paid off as Robbinsville shot a whopping 11-of-16 with just one turnover in a 25-point third quarter, with junior Evan Bunnell scoring 15 points to finish with 22.
The problem was that Nottingham responded with 23 of their own points thanks to relentless offensive rebounds and layups to continue to lead by 12 going into the fourth quarter. But Robbinsville would have preferred that style of play for 32 minutes in hindsight.
“I regret not picking up on the pressure and intensity (man full-court defense) from the start of the game, I just looked to make the game ugly with them as well,” Hayes said. But I can’t live in the past. Learn from that experience and then move on. I think a lot of the guys stepped up in the second half for us. Ty got going early and then Evan got going. But every time your season ends it’s frustrating, especially when you’re in the playoffs. Only one team can finish with a section win, so we look forward to next year.”
After falling one win away from reaching a second straight sectional final, Robbinsville has an opportunity to be even more dangerous next year. Essentially, the entire team will be back apart from senior Pat Kapp, who Hayes describes as “an incredible leader for us.”
“That core group of juniors from (Luke) Billings, Handy, Bunnell, (Dylan) Golizio, (Jack) Miller coming back, that experience they’ve gotten in the last two years is huge,” Hayes said. “They have already played in seven playoff games. That’s more than Robbinsville has had in its entire longevity… so we’ve got to get in the weight room this spring, we’ve got to hit the gym this summer and clean things up, and we’ll be ready for next year.”
Robbinsville and Nottingham are 4-4 against each other in the past four seasons, but this was their first state playoff meeting.
“He is a phenomenal coach. He gets the most out of the players out of him,” Chris Raba said of Hayes. “I’ve always said that he really respects his show a lot. Every game we play against them is a very competitive game. I know they will be well prepared.”
Next up is another well-trained program at Shelly Dearden’s Ewing, as the top-seeded Blue Devils edge out the fifth-seeded Colts Neck to host Monday’s sectional final.
“We have to go in there with 100 percent power,” Keese said. “Get out of the jump and play. Defense is our main key”.
Kapp 4-0-8, E. Bunnell 8-2-22, Golizio 1-0-3, Handy 7-0-14, Billings 3-1-8, Rodolphe 1-0-2.
Totals — 3-24-57.
Dickerson 7-2-16, Lemly 3-0-7, Keese 8-3-22, Miller 2-1-5, Alexander 4-0-10, Dormevil 3-0-6, Raymond 2-3-7.
Totals — 9-29-73.
Robbinsville (17-12) 9 5 25 18 — 57
Nottingham (20-8) 15 13 23 22 — 73
3-point goals: Bunnell 4, Golizio, Billings (D), Keese 3, Alexander 2, Lemly (N).