CHERRY HILL – Mike Depersia will no doubt score many more baskets for however long he choses to continue on with his basketball career.
But the Haddonfield High School junior will likely have to wait a good long time before he deposits one bigger than rebound shot he put back in Saturday that earned his team to a trip to the South Jersey Group 2 final.
With the Bulldawgs down a point, Depersia came up the right baseline to rebound a miss.
He put in the winning shot as Haddonfield ended Camden’s 6-year run as sectional champions with a 54-53 overtime win over the Panthers in a game played at Cherry Hill West High School.
“It seems we’ve played Camden in this situation so many times,” Depersia said. “To finally win one is amazing.”
Of all the players that seemed likely to grab an offensive rebound, Depersia is not one of them.
“I’m not the biggest guy out there,” said the 5-foot-10 guard. “But I saw the ball come off the rim, and I was in a perfect position to get it (the rebound), so I did the only thing I could do in the moment.
“It seemed like the ball bounced on the rim, once or twice, but then it went in.”
The shot fell without about two seconds left on the clock. Having no timeouts left, Camden inbounded the ball and tried for a desperation shot, but it was not close.
In seconds Haddonfield fans were mobbing the court, and Depersia joked about having to gasp for air.
“I almost suffocated,” he said. “All of my fans and my best friends were on the court.”
The outcome avenged a similar game season in which Camden ousted Haddonfield on a last-second shot in overtime.
In fact, Camden has taken Haddonfield out of the tournament in four of the past five years.
Depersia finished with 20 points for the game, and he was instrumental in bringing the Bulldawgs back from a 14-point lead Camden had manufactured at halftime.
After being held scoreless in the first half, he scored seven in the third quarter while Dan Fleming added four as Haddonfield cut the deficit to 35-31 after three quarters.
Depersia added 10 more points in the fourth quarter, including three on a 23-foot 3-point bomb that tied the score at 42 after it seemed Camden had acquired some breathing room.
“He was fearless,” said Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman. “There were double-teaming him and triple-teaming him, but he really came through with some big shots when we needed them.”
While Camden managed to lead through most of the game, the Panthers could never pull away and Haddonfield kept coming back.
They did it basically through a two-headed offense that featured Depersia and Fleming, who scored eight of his 19 points in the overtime period and 14 after the half.
“We just didn’t want to lose this game,” said Fleming. “We’ve worked hard to get this far. We lost to them last year and we didn’t want it to happen again.”
Lance Ware and Myles Thompson led Camden with 14 points each and Saleem Brown added 11.
However, Corey Greer, who is arguably the Panthers best player and who is considered one of the best guards in the state, could not get his offensive rhythm going.
He scored only five points, and missed on a drive at the end of regulation that could have given the Panthers the win.
With the teams tied at 44 at the end of regulation, Camden took a quick lead on a basket by Thompson, but Fleming came right back to connect on a 3-point goal .
Thompson again put Camden on top with two free throws, but Fleming answered with two free throws leaving the Bulldawgs ahead 49-48.
Ware answered to put Camden back on top as neither team would wilt under the pressure.
Then came a huge play when Fleming was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws as Haddonfield led 52-50 with 1:15 to play.
At that point it seemed like Nasim Hinson would play the hero’s role for Camden when he popped in a 3-point goal with 55 seconds to play.
But all that ended up doing was setting up the final chance for Haddonfield and Depersia delivered.
South Jersey Group 2 semis
Camden 11 19 5 12 10-53
Haddonfield 7 9 15 13-11-54
C Saleem Brown 11, Corey Greer 5, Nasir Hinson 3, Ethan Tarte 6, Myles Thompson 14, Lance Ware 14.
H: Mike Depersia 20, Ben Schroter 3, Aiden Blake 8, Dan Fleming 19, Lewis Evans 4