HHS boys come out flat in county quarters

Poor shooting dooms team at B-R

By: Rudy Brandl
   The Hillsborough High boys’ basketball team hit a wall in Monday night’s Somerset County quarterfinal game at Bridgewater-Raritan. Unfortunately, that wall didn’t contain a net because the Raiders couldn’t hit anything in this game.
   Horrendous shooting from both the field and the free throw line doomed the Raiders, who were eliminated by their county and conference rivals by a 55-37 score. Hillsborough shot a miserable 22 percent from the floor (10-for-45) and connected on only 54 percent of its foul shots (14-for-26) to lose a rather ugly game.
   "That sums up everything, there’s not much more to say," a disgruntled HHS head coach Ian Progin said while reviewing the statistics afterward. "The foul line was a big problem. That really dug us a hole. This was embarrassing."
   The HHS side of the scorebook contained many uncolored Os, which translates to a missed free throw. The Raiders have been hitting foul shots at around a 70 percent clip, so Progin was puzzled as to what went wrong Monday night.
   Bridgewater played aggressive defense to force missed shots, but the Raiders managed to get to the free throw line and still couldn’t convert. HHS made only 3-of-9 from the charity stripe in the first half when the Panthers raced to a 28-13 lead.
   Jon Katz hit two 3-pointers and fired in eight of his team-high 15 points in the first quarter when B-R took a 12-6 lead. The top-seeded Panthers took an even more commanding lead in the second period.
   "That’s the most points we’ve given up in the first half all year," Progin said. "We were flat."
   Progin’s team had done a fabulous job clamping down on B-R during the two regular season meetings, which the schools split. The Panthers averaged only 37 points in those two games, mostly due to the fact that the Raiders stopped inside presence Steve Kline and talented forward Adam Goodwin. That wasn’t the case in Monday night’s tournament contest.
   Kline and Goodwin, after being held to a cumulative 24 points in the two Delaware Division games, combined for 24 Monday night. Kline finished with 13 and Goodwin netted 11, but both players had seven in the first half to outscore Hillsborough by themselves.
   "They ran a little different offense and they ran some different plays," Progin said. "They executed very well. They were much more crisp and solid than we were with their cuts and screens. Their finishes were better. Ours were lazy."
   Despite all of this, the Raiders still rallied to make a game of it in the third period. After exchanging baskets early in the frame, the Raiders went on a run and cut the deficit all the way down to five points at 32-27 to end the quarter.
   HHS senior forward Mike Malko, who led all scorers with 21 points, fired in 10 of his team’s 14 in the period. Chad Barbieri netted the other four.
   "We had a great third quarter," Progin said. "We were right back in there. We pressed, caused turnovers and started to make some shots."
   The Panthers answered the fourth quarter bell with a flurry, hitting on their first few shots to open up a more comfortable lead. The home team cruised to victory and advanced to next Monday’s SCT semifinals.
   Hillsborough ran out of gas in the final eight minutes. The early deficit was simply too much to overcome, especially for a team that was playing its seventh game in 14 days. It’s a shame the Raiders couldn’t get past B-R because they only have one more game scheduled before the start of the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs on March 1.
   "We’ve played a lot of games in the last two weeks and we looked a little tired," Progin said. "If we could’ve won tonight, I really think we would’ve made it to the county finals."
   Monday’s loss was the team’s worst since the first game of January at Scotch Plains-Fanwood. Since then, the Raiders won 12 of 14 games and nearly captured a share of the Delaware Division title. The only two losses in that streak were nail-biters against Franklin and Bridgewater.
   HHS finished second in the division to B-R, just one game behind the Panthers. Bridgewater needed a game-winning shot with four seconds left at Franklin last Thursday night to maintain sole possession of the Delaware crown.
   Despite watching this happen, the Raiders still came back the following evening and defeated a feisty Warren Hills club on Senior Night. Hillsborough fell behind by eight in the first period and still trailed at the half before rallying in the third quarter.
   Malko led the Raiders with 15 points and seven rebounds, while T.J. Sferra added 13 points and six boards. Barbieri hit two big threes to ignite the rally and finished with eight points.
   The Raiders (14-8) also completed a season sweep of Phillipsburg with a 52-34 road win last week. Sferra erupted for five threes and a career-high 30 points to fuel that win.
   After tonight’s regular season finale vs. Montgomery, the Raiders will prepare for the state playoffs. The team was seeded ninth in CJ 4 and will travel to No. 8 Brick Township on March 1.