By James Evans
In a game that ended the South Hunterdon Eagles’ seven-game winning streak, the Middlesex Blue Jays triumphed, 53-44, in Mount Airy. Struggling to adjust with the addition of senior guard Jake Whitaker, the Eagles committed 15 turnovers in the loss.
Falling behind early, the Eagles were down by 11 at the half, their largest halftime deficit all season. The Eagles, who are typically a first-half team, were run off the floor in the first half, mustering only 18 points. Junior guard Brennan Carey struggled early, going 0-3 in the first half with four turnovers. The long, athletic Blue Jays lineup was able to create havoc with the Eagles lineup, running their starting five off the floor.
However, in the third quarter, the Eagles were able to gain some momentum. The home crowd and some generous calls were able to play the Eagles within eight at the end of the third quarter, anchored by solid shooting by Carey, who adjusted well at halftime. He finished the game with nine points, four rebounds and two steals. Yet, the first-half lead was too much to overcome as the game looked over with a 6-0 Middlesex run to lead off the fourth.
Losses have been atypical for the Eagles this season, and this game certainly looked like a lesson game. Senior center John Conlon said that the lesson was “that we just need to be more aggressive and push the ball.” When asked if the missed shots and turnovers were evidence of the aggressive play, Conlon disagreed: “The turnovers and missed shots will fix themselves. With a team like this we just need to push the pace, no matter what.” Carey mirrored this thought: “The memo for today was to push the pace, no matter what.”
In his first starting role since his injury, Whitaker played well as the Eagles’ leading scorer. With 11 points, three boards and four assists on the night, Whitaker looked up and down in the start. He admitted that he “was really tired” and “need[ed] to get his legs back,” and that he really forced some shots in the second quarter. Whitaker struggled to adapt to the team basketball the Eagles have been playing of late, wanting to take many of the big shots to play them back into the game.
The Eagles will have a chance to bounce back against Belvidere this Tuesday night on the road. Hopefully, the team can cut back on the turnovers and the missed shots to put them in position to get back on the winning path.