Amid March Madness, NJ’s only unbeaten team plays on

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Rumson-Fair Haven lost to Haddonfield, 43-39, in the NJSIAA Group II semifinal
Stephen Edelson

MIDDLETOWN – March Madness is upon us, with conference titles being decided around the country and the NCAA Tournament set to begin next Thursday.

And that’s when New Jersey’s only unbeaten college basketball team begins its quest for a national championship.

That’s right, while much of the nation is focused on the nationally televised action from every corner of country, the Brookdale Jersey Blues will take their 31-0 record, and No. 1 ranking nationally, into the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship, looking for their second Division III crown in five years.

“I thought we could be a pretty good team, but no, I didn’t think we’d be 31-0 at this point,’’ said Brookdale College head coach Paul Cisek, taking his team to the national championship for the sixth time.

Next Tuesday, the Jersey Blues, a collection of players from the Jersey Shore and around the state, will board a bus for the 3 1/2 hour ride to SUNY-Sullivan County, where the top-seeds open against Minnesota West  at 7 p.m. next Thursday.

Inside Collins Arena, Cisek’s office is an homage to the 2013 squad, a banner that shows the team their 33-1 season and national championship spread across one wall, with a bracket from that year’s tournament on the wall over his desk.

Cisek does have four players who went the national championship a year ago in Matt Ringel, Zachary Olukanni, Kyle Bradshaw and Jordan Hernandez, while Jaimik Moore, averaging a team-best 20.4 points-per-game, went three years ago, before returning to the program this season.

But those teams didn’t go into the tournament with a target on its back like this one does.

“They don’t quite understand what it’s going to be like,’’ Cisek said. “And you can tell them what it’s going to be like, but most of them really don’t understand.’’

In the Region XIX semifinal, Brookdale found itself trailing by 16 points to Northampton on its home court in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

“They came out with a very aggressive approach and used a 2-2-1 trap, they did a lot of things to try to beat us,’’ Cisek said.

But the Jersey Blues rallied for an 81-79 victory on a pair of Moore free throws with four seconds to play.

In the championship game, Brookdale rolled to a 70-62 win over Cumberland.

“I think coming back to win the semifinal said a lot about this team,’’ Moore said. “We came out and played well in the second half. And now for us, nothing changes this week. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing all season long.’’

Seating in the office, assistant coach Kurt Fenchel organized scoring reports on all seven possible opponents next week, and that could include a showdown with defending national champion North Lake from Irving, Texas.

“We have to go out and play our game, and I think if we do that we’re going to be in good shape,’’ Moore said.

What Brookdale does best is run, averaging 96.3 ppg. In addition to Moore, sophomore Grant Goode, a Matawan native who played at St. John Vianney, is averaging 19.3 ppg., and was the Region XIX MVP.   He had a double-double in the championship game, with 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Zachary Olukanni from Teaneck scored 21 points in their win over Northampton, and then had 12 points in the final.

Stephen Edelson: [email protected]; @SteveEdelsonAPP

 

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