The gym was packed. The stage was set. The players were ready. East Rutherford entered Shelby’s gym with a conference title on their minds but left with a 67-60 loss.
The Cavaliers (17-5, 9-2 SMAC) owned a three-point lead at the half but couldn’t stop the Golden Lions (20-3, 10-1 SMAC) and Gabe DeVoe in the final 16 minutes.
“We just didn’t make any shots,” East head coach Brad Levine said after the loss. “We tried to play some zone in the second half and it just wasn’t effective.”
East Rutherford started slow forcing Levine to call a timeout with his Cavaliers down 9-3 with 4:29 left in the first quarter.
East powered out of the break on a 12-3 run fueled by eight consecutive made free throws, four of which came from Travis Waldroup-Rodriguez who had eight points during the run.
Gabe DeVoe nailed one of two free throws with three seconds left in the quarter as the Cavs took a 15-13 lead into the second quarter.
T.J. Watkins drained a 3 out of the break but DeVoe answered with a long ball of his own to tie the game at 18-18. Just 90 seconds into the second quarter.
East managed four points on one possession to reclaim a four-point lead 22-18 and led by as many as seven (30-23) with 3:30 left in the half.
At the 2:25 mark, Waldroup-Rodriguez left the game with a dislocated finger on his left hand.
The Cavs held a slim lead despite his absence and went into the half up 31-28.
The teams traded blows and the lead throughout the third quarter.
Shelby snagged a 32-31 lead at the 6:20 mark but the Cavs took it right back 20 seconds later.
Waldroup-Rodriguez who returned from his earlier injury, stretched the lead to 35-32 with a left-handed layup.
DeVoe led Shelby back to a 40-37 lead with 2:33 left in the third and the margin stayed the same until the end of the frame. Shelby led the Cavs 44-41 heading into the final eight minutes.
Shelby led by five until a 4-0 Cavs run cut the deficit to 49-48 with 4:20 left to play.
The Golden Lions answered with a 5-0 run of their own capped by a DeVoe 3.
The lead stretched to 60-52 with just over two minutes remaining but a Boykins 3 kept the Cavs alive at 60-55 at the 1:52 mark.
Roddric Ross corralled the loose ball on the ensuing inbounds and Watkins dropped it in to make the Shelby lead 60-57.
However, from that point, the Shelby boys converted from the line down the stretch to hold on to the 67-60 win.
“They made their free throws late,” Levine said. “They hadn’t been making their free throws early on and they just got the ball to the rim more than we did.”
DeVoe led all scorers with 34 while Donte Falls added 21 for Shelby. Only four players scored on the night for the Golden Lions.
Watkins led the Cavs with 19 points. Waldroup-Rodriguez scored 16 and Boykins chipped in 15 for East Rutherford.
“They played their hearts out tonight,” Levine said. “I don’t doubt my kids effort. Now we just have to get ready to come out and play a game Friday.”
The Cavs return to action Friday night when they host Chase. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at East Rutherford.
Girl’s game: East Rutherford 50, Shelby 38.
Shelby 67, East Rutherford 60
ER^15^16^10^19 -- 60
Shelby^13^15^15^14 -- 67