TOMS RIVER – Their legs were heavy and their shots were short, but the heart of the Shawnee High School boys’ basketball team remained strong.
With tireless senior guard Dean Noll refusing to play his last game, No. 3 seed Shawnee pulled away in the second half to outlast Woodbury, the No. 6 seed, in the Tournament of Champions quarterfinals 68-47 Tuesday at Toms River North High School.
“We just weren’t making our shots so I tried to bring a lot of energy,” said Noll who scored 25 points to turn a two-point halftime lead into a comfortable win. “I felt I was able to bring a lot of energy.”
Noll will need to continue his elite play as the Renegades will face No. 2 seed Don Bosco Prep, which had a first round bye, on Thursday in the TofC semifinals here at the RWJ Barnabas Arena.
“They are a tough team, but I think we can do it,” Noll said confidently about facing the Ironmen (28-2). “We just have to stay focused and play one possession at a time.”
Shawnee needed an exhaustive effort Sunday in a 56-53 triumph over Newark East Side for the program’s sixth state title and it showed in the first half against Woodbury, the Group 1 champions.
But, the Thundering Herd deserved credit as well playing a Group 4 power. Mark DiRugeris, the first-year coach of Woodbury, masterfully used a 3-2 zone to pressure the perimeter.
“We wanted to take away their 3-pointer,” said DiRugeris.
Shawnee secured its first state crown since 2007 on junior guard Connor Deveney’s follow up with 13 seconds left.
Against Woodbury, the Renegades didn’t need a frantic finish as the starters sat the last few minutes.
The start was drastically different as well. In the state title game, Shawnee sprinted to an amazing 23-2 lead in the first quarter. Against the Herd, the Renegades trudged to a 25-23 lead at the half as Noll scored 11 of his points.
“We didn’t have a good first half, but we came out with more energy in the second half,” said senior forward Daevon Robinson after collecting 11 points and 10 rebounds along with two explosive one-handed dunks.
Woodbury (22-11) finished the most memorable season in program’s history by winning its first state title Sunday with a 60-58 decision over Cresskill.
“I’m beyond proud of this team,” added DiRugeris, a former player for the Herd. “I’m proud of all the guys, everyone of them.”
Junior guard Aaron Estrada, who sank two free throws with 4.2 seconds remaining to deliver the inaugural state title, finished with 23 points against Shawnee.
“In the first half we did everything we needed to do,” said Estrada. “In the second half we were just lacking on defense and rebounding.”
Shawnee (29-4) brings a 14-game winning streak into the semis.
“These guys don’t want to stop playing,” said Shawnee coach Joe Kessler. “They want to practice every day. They want to compete every day.”
Two-time champion Don Bosco Prep posted a 61-54 loss on Camden Catholic in the Non-Public Group A state finals Saturday afternoon.
Ironmen coach Kevin Diverio has three D-I recruits – Marcellus Earlington (St. John’s), Ronald Harper (Rutgers), Matt Herasme (St. Peter’s).
Against the Irish, Earlington finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Ironmen won their 18th-straight game. Harper, who is the son of former NBA guard Ron Harper, added 14 points while Herasme netted 10 points
Ironmen junior forward Owen McGlashen transferred from Cherokee this year.
“It is definitely the biggest game we have played,” Robinson said.
And, of course, Shawnee wants to play another one on Sunday in the TofC title game. The Renegades prepared all year for the level of competition remaining in the TofC with its tough Olympic Conference schedule as well as interleague games against Blair Academy and Gill St. Bernards and then against Atlantic City, Trenton and Newark East Side in the tournament.
“They are a close group,” said Kessler, who has won 12 South Jersey championships. “They hang out together on and off the court.”
Woodbury 8 15 8 16 – 47
Shawnee 13 12 25 18- 68
W: Aaron Estrada 23, Tommy Carter 13, Andre Parker , Hakim Thomas 2, Marcus McGruder 5, Javon Solomon 2.
S- Kane Feudtner 8, Daevon Robinson 11, Connor Deveney 3, Dean Noll 25, Dylan Deveney 17, Cole Fleming 2, Chris Lyons 2.