Shawnee Snaps Williamstown's 20 Game Winning Streak to Capture NJSIAA Group 4-South Championship on Long Three at the Final Buzzer

@ Williamstown (Williamstown, NJ), 3-7-11

NJSIAA Group 4-South Championship

Game #209 Shawnee (Medford, NJ) 53 Williamstown (Williamstown, NJ) 51

Joe Bodnar's three pointer at the final buzzer snapped host Williamstown's 20 game winning streak and earned Shawnee a spot in the NJSIAA Group 4 Final Four.  It was the 6' 2" senior's sixth three pointer of the game, and it capped a memorable and exciting contest played before a loud and enthusiastic SRO crowd.  The winning shot came on an inbounds play that started with :03 left in the game.  Joe Bodnar received the inbounds pass far behind the arc on the left side of the floor.  He twisted to face the hoop and let fly, and the ball not only did not touch the rim going in, it seemed like it didn't even touch the net as it fell to the floor to end a stirring game that was close all the way.

Williamstown entered the game with a 24-3 record and was ranked #17 in New Jersey by The Star-Ledger of Newark.  Williamstown was also the #1 seed of the 16 teams in the NJSIAA Group 4 (the largest enrollment category for public schools) South bracket.  Shawnee, on the other hand, came into the game at 18-10, had lost their last regular season contest, was seeded #7 in Group 4-South, and had won their three previous playoff games by a combined total of just 13 points.

Williamstown is a tough venue for the visiting team, as the student section is in a steep bank of seats arrayed in about 15 rows very close to the baseline at one end of the gym.  On this occasion, the Williamstown students filled the section with kids wearing white, yelling, waving their arms, jumping up and down, and waving white towels to create as bad a shooting background as any basketball player will ever face.  Late in the fourth quarter, as Shawnee missed some critical free throws, it looked as if the student section might win the game for Williamstown, shooting conditions were that adverse for the visitors.

Williamstown was the quicker team, and various sorts of traps really bothered Shawnee in the first half.  Sharpshooting Joe Bodnar had a couple of threes in the first quarter for Shawnee, and the team's offense in the first half was largely jumpshooting on the perimeter.  Only two Shawnee players scored in the first 16 minutes: Joe Bodnar, who netted 11 points, and 6' 7" senior Matt Chiusano, who scored 10.  Curtis Hopkins paced the home side with 10 points in the first half, and Williamstown's offense got a lot of mileage from grabbing steals and forcing turnovers.  In one sequence, late in the second quarter, Williamstown's Julian Martin stole the ball and scored on a breakaway, and, on Shawnee's next possession, Hopkins grabbed a steal and scored on a breakaway, giving Williamstown a 22-21 lead.

Williamstown had a strong third quarter, and early in the second half, they hit two threes in quick succession--the first by 6' 8" Alssene Saintilus and the second by Hopkins--then Saintilus scored on a putback, and it was 32-25 in favor of the home team.  Shawnee cut the deficit late in the period on a putback by 6' 2" sophomore Ryan Bonner and a play in which Chiusano grabbed a defensive rebound and took the ball coast-to-coast for a layup.  Chiusano was a difficult matchup for Williamstown, as he is a tall guy who can really handle the ball.  Hopkins hit a jumper at the buzzer to end the third quarter, and Williamstown took at 38-33 lead into the final quarter.

Then, nothing went right for Williamstown.  They opened the fourth quarter with an unforced turnover, and Joe Bodnar quickly hit a three to start a 12-0 Shawnee run.  Joe Bodnar was sensational during this run, hitting another three, scoring on a fallaway jumper, and snagging a couple of defensive rebounds.  Chiusano scored two field goals during the run--one on a pivot play and another on a give-and-go.  Meanwhile, Williamstown was committing turnovers, missing shots, and not getting offensive rebounds.  Williamstown did not score a point in the fourth quarter until DShawn Haines hit a three with 3:14 left, which made the scored 45-41, Shawnee.  Then, Chiusano sank two free throws facing the most difficult shooting background that I have ever seen in a high school game, with the roaring Williamstown student section leaping around and waving arms and white towels.  These amazingly clutch free throws put his team up, 47-41.  One of his teammates didn't fare as well at the line--Williamstown was not deliberately fouling--and the home team took advantage, as threes by Saintilus and Hopkins tied the game at 47, with 1:35 left.  Shawnee went up, 49-47, on another Chiusano give-and-go, and Williamstown's Martin tied it at 49 with a putback with :41 left.  Shawnee regained the lead at 50-49 on another Chiusano free throw, then Williamstown went up, 51-50, on a putback by Martin with :12 left in the game.  Shawnee inbounded the ball but Williamstown made it difficult for the visitors to advance up the court.  So, Shawnee called  a timeout and set up Joe Bodnar's remarkable winning shot.

For the winners, Joe Bodnar finished with 24 points (he had six three pointers), and Chiusano, who was comprehensively impressive, had 23.  Only four Shawnee players scored in the game.  For Williamstown, whose season is ended, Hopkins had 18, Saintilus scored 11, and Martin netted 10 points.

High school playoff basketball is wonderful to watch.

Shawnee 12 9 12 20-53
Williamstown 8 14 16 13-51     

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