Cavaliers earn spot in championship
The third meeting between East Rutherford and Freedom was closer than the previous two, but it had the same end-result.
The Cavaliers claimed their place in Friday’s SMAC championship game with a 65-56 win over the Patriots in the semifinals Wednesday night at Shelby.
“East Rutherford was, for about the entire ball game, just about half of a step better than Freedom,” East head coach Brad Levine said following the win. “There where points where we didn’t play and they did and there were points where we just outplayed them a little bit.”
Behind Jeron Hemphill and their patented 3-point shooting, the Patriots jumped out to an early 10-4 lead with 2:10 left in the first quarter forcing East into a timeout.
Out of the break the Cavs drained three 3-pointers to end the quarter in a 13-13 tie.
The 3-point shooting continued for east in the second as Travis Waldroup-Rodriguez opened the scoring with a deep 3.
By the five-minute mark the Cavs built a five-point lead but it was erased in the final five seconds by the Patriots in part to a careless Cavalier turnover and the teams went into the half all knotted-up at 27-27.
East and Freedom opened the second half with a turnover apiece before they settled down.
Hemphill started the scoring with a steal followed by a transition layup to build a quick two-point lead that Freedom held until a T.J. Watkins 3 put East on top, 39-38, with 2:50 left in the third quarter.
Freedom’s Chris Bridges continued the Patriots’ hot streak from deep with a 3 ball that reestablished the Patriots lead at 41-39.
From there the Cavs exploded on an 8-0 capped by a tough Roddric Ross layup in the lane helping East to a 47-41 lead going into the final frame.
The East lead was cut to four with 5:16 remaining in the game before Levine called a timeout to express his displeasure to the officials.
The Patriots came within one at 57-56 with 4:30 left in the game but Jarvis Hopper and the Cavaliers took over from there.
“I think we had a little more gas at the end when they had to shoot some 3s and their legs were gone,” Levine said.
Hopper netted six points in the final four minutes as the Cavs beat the Freedom press and closed out the 65-56 win.
Hopper led the Cavs with 17 points along with eight rebounds.
DeVonte Boykins added 14 points and five assists. Ross finished with 12 points and six boards while Watkins had 11 points and six rebounds.
However, the standout for Levine was C.J. Norman.
“One of the brightest spots of the night was [Norman],” Levine said. “In the scorebook he had four points but he defended well, took a couple charges and had four rebounds.”
Hemphill and Wright had 16 apiece for the Patriots.
East will battle Shelby Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the championship game.
“This game is over and we’ll get it out of our minds,” Levine said. “Now we’ll go back to the drawing board work on some things that we’ve done against Shelby in the past.”