(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
WORTH THE WAIT: Hun School senior forward Idris Hilliard prepares to loft a jumper in Hun's 43-40 win over Blair in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship game. Last Thursday, Hilliard poured in 24 points as Hun topped Blair 63-47 in double overtime in the state Prep A championship game. It was the program's first Prep A title since 1992.
It is a title that Hun School boys' basketball head coach Jon Stone has been chasing for seven years and it required the patience of Job for him to get it accomplished.
After seeing his teams repeatedly go only as far as the Prep A semis, Hun edged St. Benedict's 51-46 last week in the prep Final Four to set up a title game clash at Blair Academy.
As Stone and his players headed west to Blair last Thursday afternoon, there was another delay in the title quest as the team's bus took two hours to get to the game rather than the normal hour and a half.
Once the Raiders arrived, it was clear that they faced several obstacles as they surveyed the hostile surroundings.
"There were a lot of odds against us," said Stone, whose team had defeated Blair 43-40 in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title game four days earlier after having lost twice to the Buccaneers earlier in the season. "We had just beaten them and they were all fired up. They were at home and they had a standing room only crowd."
The game started out as a topsy-turvy contest that turned into a double overtime marathon. Hun trailed 20-15 at the half but narrowed the margin to 34-32 going into the fourth quarter.
The Raiders outscored Blair 11-9 over the last eight minutes of regulation to force overtime. The teams could only manage two points apiece in the first overtime.
Stone's wait for a title ended in smashing style as his club outscored Blair 18-2 in the second extra session to pull out a 63-47 win.
In recalling Hun's explosion in the second overtime, Stone said he didn't make any adjustments to trigger the onslaught.
"I don't think I said anything special," said Stone, whose team moved to 21-8 with the win. "I told them to look for certain things and we called two set plays. We won the tip and got the ball and went into the set. Doug Davis hit a big three. It was a good pass from Idris [Hilliard] a good pick from Will [Martell] and Doug knocked it down.
Fittingly, the second overtime dragged on as Stone and his players waited to celebrate the elusive crown. "As we started to pull away, it became a foul fest," recalled Stone, who got 24 points from senior star Hilliard in the title game along with 13 from Davis and 12 from Lance Goulbourne. "It seemed like no time was going off of the clock."
Once it was over and the trophy was in Hun's hands, the bus ride back to Princeton seemed to take no time.
"It was great," recalled Stone of the title celebration. "It meant so much to the seniors. We had talked about them having the chance to make some history. We won the MAPL and then we set the bar higher with the state title, something the program hadn't won since 1992."
In assessing what led to his team's breakthrough, Stone pointed to its balance. "I was thinking that Doug had such a good game in the MAPL final but it was Idris that hit what turned out to be the game-winning shot, an inside leaner with two guys draped all over him," recalled Stone. "In the title game, Idris had a great game but it was Doug who hit the big shots."
Hilliard also provided leadership as the team's co-captain along with senior guard Sean Pucciarelli. "I think the key to any championship is leadership," asserted Stone. "Sean and Idris were tremendous leaders. I had long talks with both of them about leadership. It came from them and the other kids followed."
The Hun supporting cast which included Martell, Matt Florio, Mike Russo, and Egheosa Edomwonyi bought into the team concept.
"We had good chemistry," added Stone. "We had unselfish players who knew their roles and were comfortable with them. There was no whining about minutes; the kids embraced their roles. They liked and enjoyed each other."
That team spirit made it worth the wait as Stone enjoyed his club's championship finale.
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