TOMS RIVER – In the towering legacy of the Shawnee High School boys’ basketball team, these Renegades carved out a place among the best teams in school history.
The remarkable run ended on Thursday in the Tournament of Champions semifinals, but the names of Kane Feudtner, Daevon Robinson, Connor and Dylan Deveney and Dean Noll will always be in the conversation around Medford and South Jersey as among the top squads Joe Kessler has ever coached.
“We had teams in the 90’s with a lot of talent … but this team had heart,” Kessler said with an admiring smile that should last until opening day next season.
With tired legs and a tireless heart, Noll tried to carry No. 3 seed Shawnee past No. 2 seed Don Bosco Prep with 24 points on an assortment of drives and pull up jumpers. However, the talented and deep Ironmen broke open a 2-point lead with two minutes to play for the deceiving final count of 49-39 at Toms River North High School.
“It was awesome,” reflected Noll, a senior guard, on this sensational season for Shawnee (29-5), which carried a 14-game winning streak into the semis at RWJ Barnabas Arena and justly a ton of confidence.
Noll was absolutely brilliant in playing against D-I recruits Marcellus Earlington (St. John’s), Ronald Harper (Rutgers) and Matt Herasme (St. Peter’s).
”Dean was incredible” Kessler gushed. “All year I said he was the best player in South Jersey. He was incredible.”
And Shawnee proved to be the best team in South Jersey as well.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Kessler said.
The Ironmen (29-2) play top-seeded Roselle Catholic, a 75-62 winner over fourth-seeded Nottingham in the other semifinal, on Sunday at 5 p.m. for the TofC title.
The Renegades beat Woodbury, the No. 6 seed, in the TofC quarterfinals, 68-47, Tuesday and Shawnee needed an exhaustive effort Sunday in a 56-53 triumph over Newark East Side for the program’s sixth state title. So this was the Renegades third game in five days against high level competition while Don Bosco was off since last Saturday when the two-time champion defeated Camden Catholic, 61-54, in the Non-Public Group A state finals for the North Jersey power’s 18th-straight win.
In the end, the fresh legs prevailed as Shawnee trailed just 41-39 on a three-point play from Kane Feudtner, who followed a miss and made the ensuing free throw, with two minutes left.
But then two of Don Bosco’s Division I commits (Herasme) and (Harper) scored on driving layups to ignite an 8-0 run for a 10-point lead with 30 seconds left.
“They have a great team,” Kessler said. “Their height got to us.”
Last year, in the Group 4 state finals, the Renegades started five underclassmen against powerful Linden in a 57-41 loss. However, two of the starters – Patrick Kernan and Sean Heine - didn’t play this season because of knee injuries. Kernan averaged 7.9 points last season as a sophomore, and Heine, averaged 9.4 points last year as a junior.
“To do what they did without Sean and Pat … I can’t believe the year they had,” Kessler said about how the team picked up for the immense personnel loses. “It was an incredible team.”
Indeed. Shawnee just kept grinding and getting better under the superb tutelage of Kessler and his elite staff of former Shawnee stars J.R. Gillern, Dillion Fields and Mike Spera.
“This team had a lot of heart,” Kessler added, “and never gave up.”
Even shorthanded, Shawnee secured its first state crown since 2007 on junior guard Connor Deveney’s follow up with 13 seconds left.
Along with Noll, classmates Daevon Robinson and Dylan Deveney capped their brilliant careers with amazing senior seasons.
“I love those guys,” Kessler said about his seniors. “To have the high school careers they have had is a tribute to them.”
The 6-foot-3 Robinson will be playing football in the fall at Rutgers where Harper will play basketball.
“He said to me that he will see me at Rutgers,” Robinson said about a brief chat on the floor with Harper.
Both Robinson and Dylan Deveney were starters for the Renegades’ sectional football championship team this season.
The 6-6 Deveney, who had committed to play baseball at Lafayette, received an offer from Columbia for football.
“We handled a lot of adversity,” said Deveney, who explained he could go to a prep school next year and play football. “We didn’t know what we would do when two starters went down, but we didn’t panic and we did what we had to do.”
And they had Noll.
“I told him to just go,” Robinson said about Noll.
Noll was the best player on the court in the first quarter. The bouncy Noll scored 13 points, including a 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer for the final seven points of the opening eight minutes, as Shawnee raced to a 20-8 lead.
When the Ironmen extended their man defense, Noll managed just one basket in the second quarter for Shawnee’s only points.
Meanwhile, the 6-6 Earlington powered inside for six points as Don Bosco posted a 13-2 run to trail just 22-21 at the break.
“We had a great first quarter, but the second quarter killed us,” Kessler said. “They really beat us up on the boards, I think of their 13 points, nine were on offensive rebounds.”
Harper, who is the son of former NBA guard Ron Harper, scored 17 points while Earlington finished with 14 points and Herasme scored 10 points. Ironmen junior forward Owen McGlashen, a talented 6-5 transfer from Cherokee, didn’t chip in any ponts in the low-scoring game.
“We didn’t stop fighting,” said Kessler, who has won 12 South Jersey championships.. “We got back into it.”
Noll has Division II offers from Philadelphia’s University of the Sciences and North Jersey’s Caldwell, but there has to be a Division I coach out there who will see the video of this game and realize Noll is worthy of a chance.
“He proved to everyone that he is a Division I player,” Deveney said.
“It motivated me playing against the Division I players,” Noll said, “I wanted to show I was just as good.”
For much of the game, he showed he was better.
Shawnee 20 2 11 6 - 39
Don Bosco 8 13 14 14 – 49
S- Kane Feudtner 5, Connor Deveney 2, Dean Noll 24, Dylan Deveney 8.
DB - Marcellus Earlington 14, Ronald Harper 17, Matt Herasme 10, Victor Konopka 8.