WILDWOOD – Last year, after the Shawnee High School boys’ basketball team lost to Linden in the Group 4 State Championship game, the Renegades vowed that the finals experience would help them return to Rutgers University this season.
After starting five underclassmen in the title game, Shawnee deserved to be confident going into this year.
However, the Renegades lost their first game of this season to powerful Gill St. Bernards.
Then Shawnee had to play at school-district rival Cherokee. And then a couple games this week in Wildwood against unknown out-of-state teams.
But after the early bump, Shawnee is now 3-1 following a 69-46 win over Penn Charter (Pa.) here Wednesday night in the Ernie Troiano Sr. Memorial Boys Showcase. The Renegades play Bethesda Chevy Chase (Md.) tonight in another game on the boardwalk at the Wildwood Convention Center.
“We definitely all have it in the back of her head we want to get back there, but we take it one game at a time,” said Shawnee flashy senior point guard Dean Noll, who led all scorers with 28 points against the Quakers, on returning to Rutgers.
Noll shot 11-for-20 in 31 minutes against Penn Charter. He also dealt four assists as the Renegades sprinted to a 15-2 lead against the talented Quakers (8-4), who compete in the highly-respected Inter-Academic League (Inter-AC), which is the oldest league in the country. According to veteran Philadelphia scholastic sports writer Ted Silary, Penn Charter should compete for the league title.
Against the Quakers, who boost high-scoring senior swingman Mason Williams, a resident of Voorhees, the Renegades used their typical balanced attack to shoot 51 percent from the field, including a searing 15-for-23 (65 percent) in the second half when Penn Charter pushed for a comeback.
The fluid 6-foot-1 Noll is continuing the long tradition of outstanding point guards under Kessler, including Dan and Brian Earl, Brian Bouchard, a Rowan assistant who was at the game, and Dillion Fields, a current Shawnee assistant coach.
“We tried to be smart with the ball,” Noll explained, actually summarizing Shawnee’s amazing success over the last three decades. “We pass up good shots for better ones.”
Shawnee certainly looks like they can return to Piscataway where they fell 57-41 to Linden last year, but hung in there with the defending state champions, who suffered their only loss to a New Jersey team last season against the Patrick School, the state’s top team.
Last year, the Renegades started the five underclassmen of 6-6 forward Dylan Deveney (16.6 points a game last year), 6-4 forward Daevon Robinson (9.4), 6-3 guard Patrick Kernan (7.9), 6-3 swingman Sean Heine (9.4) and Noll (15.1).
Deveney, who scored 18 points against Hunterdon Central in the state semifinals last year to go over 1,000 career points, collected 16 points and seven rebounds against Penn Charter. His brother Connor, a junior, added 10 points as Shawnee played without Kernan and Heine.
Those youthful Renegades are now veterans.
“After we lost last year, every one wanted to come back,” said Robinson, who just won a South Jersey Group 3 title in football with the Renegades and is a wide receiver recruit of Rutgers.
Last year, Shawnee finished 29-3 on the way to advancing to its first state final since 2007. Certainly, the Road to Rutgers was challenging last year as the Renegades endured an epic three-overtime 76-72 victory in the South Jersey championship game against Toms River North when Dylan Deveney scored 31 points.
But Shawnee coach Joe Kessler has navigated that swerving, pot-holed postseason road before, winning five state titles and 11 South Jersey championships. Shawnee won state titles in 1992, 1995, 1996, 2001 and 2007.
Surely, bus loads of Shawnee students want to make the trip from Medford up the Jersey Turnpike again in March, but there is two more months of competitive basketball before then for the Renegades in this season that started with a loss.
Robinson, who grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds against Penn Charter and shot 4-for-4 from the floor, feels the loss refocused the Renegades on the rugged return Road to Rutgers.
“We realized we couldn’t slack off after losing the Gill St. Bernard‘s,” Robinson said. “It was actually good for us, so that we have to keep working hard and keep our heads on straight.”
Shawnee 18 10 18 23 - 69
Penn Charter 8 11 13 14 - 46
S - Brennan 5, Robinson 8, Deveney, C, 10, Noll 28, Deveney, D, 16, Flemming 2.
PC - Nicastro 2, Samuel 5, Holmes 13, Williams 15, Topaz 4, Slowinski 3, Maloney 4.