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By Michael Cohen
Two days before heading to the Bergen County Tournament in Allendale, the Hackensack High School boys’ varsity basketball team was on fire in every facet of the game against Northern Highlands on Jan. 31. The Comets dominated the Highlanders, 89-50, sweeping the season series and improving to 16-3 on the season.
The high-powered Comets were men on a mission on their home turf, bringing playoff intensity to the matchup as they set their sights on possible division and county titles.
From the very start, the Comets’ high tempo offense was unstoppable.
With each drive through the lane and each attempted shot at the hoop, another Comet player was on the receiving end to either slam the ball home or rebound it and pass to someone open in the corner for a three.
“We have been talking about getting ready for tournament time,” said Head Coach Gordon Whiting. “Guys are gelling well. They wanted to come out and make a statement that they are ready for the tournament. We know we have players and we have talent. We have been waiting for it to gel. It took for me to step back and let them come together on their own. This whole season has been about the end of the year.”
It didn’t take long for the Comets to set the tone of this contest. After Northern Highlands’ Travis Stoller was forced to shoot a three-ball quicker than he wanted to, resulting in a miss and board for the Comets, Hackensack began to pull away.
On the ensuing Hackensack possession, point guard Chris Myers found a wide open Keyon Lewis (7 points) all alone near the arch waiting for the ball. The pass was perfect; the shot by Lewis was even better, clearing the rim for the three, giving Hackensack the early 7-2 lead.
Lewis’ three-pointer opened up the floodgates, and soon every Comet that touched the basketball connected.
Rashard Figures (18 points) hit back-to-back three-pointers, boosting the Comet lead to 17-12 with three minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
Later, senior Jaimik Moore (8 points, 3 assists) found Figures in the corner for a mid-range jump shot, giving Hackensack a 21-12 lead. Figures closed out his monster start with another long range three-pointer, giving Hackensack a 27-16 lead.
The Highlander offense, which was so dynamic in the first meeting between these two clubs, had no answer for Hackensack. When they couldn’t get a shot off, they were either stripped of the basketball or watched Hackensack’s Moore and Anthony Uribe and Lewis play terrific defense on the boards.
Northern Highlands’ Mike Menakis, who was deadly in the first meeting, was held to only three points in the first quarter alone. Soon, the Highlanders were attempting desperation three’s and missing.
Hackensack’s domination continued into the second quarter, where they outscored the Highlanders 26-6. The Highlanders only attempted 12 shots in the entire quarter, with most of their possessions ending in turnovers. Hackensack’s size and speed was too much to handle.
Hackensack’s Eugene Marshall was a major presence inside the paint, scoring eight of his 12 points in this quarter.
Uribe opened up the quarter with a three-ball, building the lead to 32-18. Myers (9 points) would score a backbreaking three-pointer for Hackensack to increase the lead to 21. Finally, Figures complete a bucket and two free throws for the Comets, and Hackensack led 53-22 at the break.
Northern Highlands’ struggles continued in the second half. They opened up the quarter, missing their first four shots, while Hackensack continued to rain down baskets. Moore and Marshall scored the first eight points of the second half for the Comets, as Hackensack built an insurmountable 61-22 lead.
Toward the end of the contest, Comets senior Joey Diaz was on fire. He nailed three consecutive three-pointers from the corner and added a drive to the hoop for 11 points on the night as Hackensack closed out an electrifying team effort.
Next up, the Bergen County Tournament.
“Bergen Catholic will be a great first challenge for us,” Whiting said.
Hackensack enters this playoff game having won four in a row, and Whiting knows the time is now.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to win the division, the county and the states. That hasn’t changed. The closer we get to it, the more we feel like we have a chance.”