PISCATAWAY – The road to the state championship was truly on the road.
So, playing Sunday afternoon at Rutgers University was just another game for the Haddonfield Memorial High School boys’ basketball team.
“The adversity we have been through, just to play the games is the easy part,” Bulldawgs coach Paul Wiedeman said after a business-like 62-45 win over Newark Central for the Group 2 state title. “We’ve been battle tested and that has made us closer.”
Haddonfield played its “home” games at Cherry Hill East this year since its historic gym was being refurbished. And they looked rather cozy in the spacious Louis Brown Athletic Center, especially jumping to a 6-0 lead.
“It was a tough road here,” junior guard Mike DePersia acknowledged about the season, which included him topping 1,000 career points.
Haddonfield (29-3) now stays on the road in the Tournament of Champions. The Bulldawgs are the No. 5 seed and will play No. 4 seed Nottingham on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Toms River North High School. The winner will play top-seeded Roselle Catholic on Thursday in the TofC semifinals.
Newark Central, which won the state Group 2 crown in 2011, finished 23-9.
The Bulldawgs won their sixth state title, but first since 2006 when they won three-straight with Brian Zoubek, a 7-foot-1 center who went on to win a national championship at Duke.
“It has been a long time coming,” Wiedeman said. “I’m so proud of the team.
“I give them all the credit.”
The Bulldawgs won their first 11 games before losing to Wildwood Catholic in January, but Wiedeman was without three starters in the three-point loss in the Shoot Down Cancer Classic. DePersia, Dan Fleming and Mike Bond didn’t play due to injuries.
“We appreciated what we had to go through just to get to this point,” said Wiedeman, who does an outstanding job with practice preparation and game strategy as well as keeping his team focused year in and year out.
DePersia, a fearless lefty point guard, paced the Bulldawgs with 22 points.
“We’ve been fighting adversity all year,” DePersia said. "But our coach has been behind us and we think he is the best coach in the state.”
Bond, who missed most of the season with a broken wrist, came off the bench to score 13 points. Dylan Heine added 10 points.
“It feels great to be here and play well through all the adversity,” said Bond, a senior guard. “This was not as much of a test as that was.”
Another test for Haddonfield was beating four-time defending South Jersey champion Camden, which they did in overtime in the semifinals.
“It means the world to me to go out a state champion,” Bond added.
The Bulldawgs, who have won 14 of their last 15 games, streaked to a 30-12 lead at the half as DePersia scored eight points in the first quarter. Haddonfield padded its six-point lead starting the fourth quarter by blitzing Newark Central with 23 points in the final period.
“These guys have been tremendous, on the bus, in practice and in games,” Wiedeman said.
And, they looked great holding the state title trophy, too, as they sure didn't appear a bit road weary.
Newark Central 10 12 11 12 - 45
Haddonfield 15 15 9 23 - 62
N- Zarique Nutter, 3, Dee-End McRae 17, Jihad Evans 4, Keith Rogers 4, Joel Uzoka Simmons 5, Omar Terry 10, Isaiah Smith 2.
H – Aiden Blake 1, Dan Fleming 4, Dylan Heine 10, Will Bond 13, Mike Schroeter 2, Ben Schroeter 8, Lewis Evans 2, Mike DePersia 22.