LAWRENCE – Call it a mystique or an aura, but the Ewing boys basketball team has it when Shelley Deerden is on the bench.
With his coach in the Hall of Fame at the school, the Blue Devils returned to their usual success in the state tournament.
Fifth seeded Ewing used the big third quarter on Thursday night to knock out fourth seeded Lawrence in the quarterfinals of Group III Central Jersey with a score of 60-50.
Dirden, who led the team to five sectional titles during his first stay in 2004-19, has an undeniable impact on the program. The Blue Devils (14-8) have won just eight of their 25 games in two seasons when Dirden was retired, and yet here they are – already back in familiar territory.
“Hard work in practice, pushing each other,” said junior Kenny Rankin. “The team has great chemistry and we are good on and off the field and the coach is helping us.”
Rankin also brought Ewing back to the semifinals of the section scheduled for Saturday in a match against top-seeded Manasquan (23-5), scoring 16 of his game’s highest 20 points in the second half.
After Lawrence (15-11) closed the first half of the series 11-1 to achieve a 22-22 balance at the break, Rankin switched to another gear down the stretch when he drilled three 3-pointers, brought out to stop and found open teammates.
“We just tried to play hard, win and just do what’s best for us and the team,” Rankin said. “I just knew we had to bring it. This is a fierce rivalry. I was sitting in the first half because of fouls and I just knew I had to come and bring it. ”
And Dirden brought all his coaching maneuvers to the table. Ewing put pressure on the entire field in the third quarter, which Lawrence struggled to successfully counteract the half-attack and find easy baskets.
Senior Gabe Mitchell-White finished his high school career with 19 points.
“I knew they would come out in the press 1-2-2,” Lawrence coach Jeff Malinelli said. “We said we couldn’t let that speed us up, and that got us speeding up. It was their merit. We really tried to break the press and start resentment, and they made it clear that it is difficult to do. “
Gishon Cannon scored 12 points and Nair Preston added nine when Ewing picked up the pace and found an offensive pace against a team she has already beaten twice this season.
Pulling Preston’s jumper out of the 3-point arc made the score 33-25 with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter. A few minutes later, Rankin buried the triple, which gave Ewing the biggest advantage – 43-29.
Although he is only 6 feet tall, Rankin has been Ewing’s top scorer and rebound all season because he plays with a strong base in the paint.
“I just play physical education,” Rankin said. “You have to have a heart.”
Lawrence also showed sincerity. Three-point Brandon Ford with 6:05 left briefly reduced Ewing’s lead to 45-38. The Blue Devils set a timeout and quickly regrouped.
Ewing hit the foul line more than twice as many as Lawrence (21 to nine), and made 12 fouls, which was another key difference in the game.
But Lawrence forced Ewing to fight for 32 minutes before, eventually, giving up, which is only appropriate in high-stakes games between rivals Colonial Valley Conference.
“I just knew they weren’t leaving,” Rankin said. “We had to play very hard and very hard.”
Gibson 3-1-8, Forrest 2-3-7, Griffin 1-0-2, Preston 3-2-9, Rankin 8-1-20, Cannon 4-4-12, Doggett 0-1-1. In total – 21-12-60.
Brustle 1-0-2, Mitchell White 9-0-19, Ford 4-0-11, Boisel 5-3-13, Kelly 2-1-5.
In total – 21-4-50.
Ewing (14-8) 15 7 21 17 – 60
Lawrence (15-11) 9 13 9 19 – 50
3-point goals: Rankin 3, Gibson 2, Preston (E), Ford 3, Mitchell-White (L).