ERIAL – Timber Creek fans started filling their gym an hour and a half before tipoff. Camden was coming and the Chargers’ fans were ready and waiting.
By now, though, Camden knows the drill. When you’re the No. 1 in the state and nationally ranked on top of that, it comes with the territory.
But the Panthers also know the best way to quiet a crowd in full frenzy is to grab the momentum right away and Lance Ware, the 6-9 senior center, says that starts before they even hit the court.
“We start building the momentum in the locker room before the game,” said Ware. “Everybody gets pumped and then we bring out onto the court with us. I love it.”
Ware was a disruptive force early for Camden. Along with Ta’Quan Woodley, they controlled the paint, blocking shots, changing shots, grabbing rebounds and forcing Timber Creek to just about abandon the inside game early.
With Jerome Brewer and D.J. Wagner getting five points apiece, Camden ran out to 19-6 lead before Timber Creek called a time out with a little over three minutes left in the first quarter.
Camden led 25-16 after the first quarter and closed the game with a 30-11 run after Timber Creek had crept to within 10 points late in the third quarter to beat the Chargers, 85-56.
Camden, No.1 in the nj.com Top 20 and No. 16 in the ESPN High School Boys Basketball Top 25, improved to 24-1 overall, while Timber Creek, No. 17 in the state, dropped to 19-4.
“I thought we did come out aggressively and defensively we did a pretty good job with pressure,” Camden coach Rick Brunson said. “I thought offensively we had some lapses here and there.
“I have liked our defense all year. But my job is to make sure they keep the pressure up for 32 minutes.”
Demetrius Paynter scored five of his team-high 25 points and Eric Benjamin (14 points) scored on a layup as the Chargers used a 7-2 run to open the second quarter and cut the Camden lead to 28-22.
But Camden scored the next nine straight to increase the lead to 15 points and led at halftime, 42-29. Wagner scored eight points in the second quarter, all coming after the Chargers had pulled to within six points. He led all scorers with 16 points at halftime and finished with a game-high 28.
“We turned the ball over a little too much for me and we’ve got to get better,” Brunson said. “We have to learn how to play hard for 32 minutes.”
Ware (15 points) came out in the third quarter and dominated. He scored nine points and Wagner added a bucket on a drive and Camden stretched its lead to 19 points, 53-34.
Again, Timber Creek clawed its way to within 10 led by Paynter, who scored seven points during an 11-2 run. The Chargers gave themselves a chance but couldn’t capitalize on it.
“I explained to them this is the dangerous part of the game,” Timber Creek coach Richard Bolds said. “This is the time of the game where you have to run your sets. You go for a quick shot and you miss, they grab the rebound and they’re going to get out in transition. We missed three straight shots, they rebound then get a layup, a foul and a dunk. We had two side inbounds plays and they get steal dunk, steal layup. Now we go from 14 down to 30 down.
“I explained to them this is the time when winners win. We let a team blow us out of our own gym due to the lack of discipline.”
Sebastian Robinson scored on a rebound and Wagner hit a layup as Camden finished the third quarter up 13.
The Panthers opened the fourth quarter with 14 straight points led by Wagner with eight to open up a 27-point lead and pull away for good. Still, Brunson sees the need for improvement.
“As the saying goes, we’re as good as our record says we are,” Brunson said. “We’re a good team. Our kids know it. I’m sure they read the papers. But sometimes we get complacent and we have to make sure they realize when you get to the playoffs and you get complacent it could be one game and you go home. What I preach to the kids is you can’t take anything for granted.”
Camden 26 16 18 25 - 85
Timber Creek 15 14 18 9 - 56
Camden – Lance Ware 15, Jerome Brewer 9, D.J. Wagner 28, Ta’Quan Woodley 9, Cian Medley 4, Sebastian Robinson 11, Cornelius Robinson 4, Devin Benson 5.
Timber Creek – Jalen Bergen 4, Demetrius Paynter 25, Eric Benjamin 14, Tarheeb Still 2, Justin Bladen 5, Austin Green 4, Jayden Mott 2,