The gym was rocking all night, not just for the Ramsey Rams, the host school for the North 1, Group 2 final, and the top-seed, but for the third-seeded Elmwood Park , both teams boasting a tremendous fan base.
Although a somewhat low-scoring affair, the game was not devoid of nail-biting action, with the game still being decided by the last few possessions. In the end, it was the Ramsey who came out victorious, walking away with a 38-33 victory and repeating as the North 1, Group 2 champions.
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Defense was the primary focus for both teams at the start of the game. Ramsey (24-4) started the game off in zone, forcing Elmwood Park into a motion offense that saw them swinging the ball for nearly a minute just looking for an opening.
Elmwood Park’s (22-6) leading scorer, Essam Assaf, began to look for a way into the zone, penetrating off the kicks, but the zone collapsed quickly, forcing Elmwood Park into tough shots. With both teams, looking to set up in the half court, the first quarter ended with Ramsey leading 7-6.
The second quarter continued with the same action, but Elmwood Park started to get better looks, showing signs of being able to counter the zone. The half ended with the Rams leading 14-11.
“I told them I thought we played well enough to be up,” said Elmwood Park coach Steven Herget on what he told his team at the half. “We missed a couple of bunnies in the paint that we usually make, they [Ramsey] has alot of size that alters that, but we have drills that we do to counter that and we didnt take advantage of those situations.”
“We gave up one lead, but we told them our mantra of playing good defense, we were up on the catch, fronting their bigs, I don’t really think we did anything wrong, we just had to correct some misses around them rim,” added Herget.
Assaf heeded his coach’s words and started to get things going in the third quarter, kicking things off with a crossover into a baseline drive for a layup. However, Ramsey seemed to answer everytime. Noah Eide hit back-to-back three-pointers, making the score 20-15 Rams with 6:12 left in the third.
Despite the back and forth play, the third quarter belonged to Crusaders. Essam Assaf was able to get into the lane on the next possession and hit a floater, then hustled back to pin the ball on the glass after a turnover. The third quarter got underway with Ramsey holding a 22-21 lead, but all the momentum was with Elmwood Park.
The Crusaders kicked off the fourth with a bang, holding a 23-22 lead, its first of the game. It wouldn’t last, however, as Ramsey’s Matt Stone answered with a three-pointer, making the score 25-23.
The action continued to be back and forth. Matt Feurst would hit a layup, plus the foul to put the Rams up 28-25, but DeWayne Carter of Elmwood Park would answer with an and-one of his own, tying the game yet again, 28-28.
The difference in the game turned out to be Ramsey’s 6-foot-6 center, Logan Bahn, who came off the bench to give a big lift on defense and on the boards.
Bahn, who is also an offensive lineman, came in the game and got fouled on his many putback attempts, going 4-for-4 from the line in the clutch to help seal the game.
“I’m really proud of my guys,” said Ramsey coach Mark Christiansen, who first the well-coached opponent his team had just faced.
“Hats off to Elmwood Park and Steve [Herget], they really took us out of our game-plan today and it really made it hard for us on the offensive side,” said Christiansen. “They messed up what we do offensively, but my guys really battled through.
“We were missing a bunch of layups and free throws down the stretch, but we continued to just battle through, make stops on the defensive end and really capitalize when we needed to towards the end to seal it for us,” added Christiansen.
Bahn and Feurst led the way for the Rams with 10 points apiece, with Noah Eide adding his two big three-pointers in the third quarter, scoring eight total in the game.
Essam Assaf led the way for Elmwood Park, posting 10 points with DeWayne Carter tallying eight as well.
Ramsey heads to the NJSIAA Group 2 semifinal on Thursday at 5 PM, held at Elizabeth High School, where it will face Caldwell, the North 2, Group 2 champions.
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