With less than 30 seconds left and his team down double digits, first-year Collingswood High School boys basketball head coach Patrick Dorney had his players pressing on defense, asking them to exert maximum effort even when it was clear the game was lost.
Dorney knew that with the type of performance his Panthers gave against a heavily favored Haddonfield squad, their last moments on the court this season deserved to be hard-fought.
No. 16 Collingswood went toe-to-toe with No. 1 Haddonfield for more than two quarters before sliding late in a 63-45 loss in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 playoffs Monday night.
Collingswood trailed just 22-19 at halftime, but the Bulldawgs pulled away, winning the third quarter, 23-12. Dorney spoke proudly of the effort his team gave, particularly their commitment to practicing long and hard the last seven days.
“We spent a lot of time preparing for this game,” Dorney said. “We spent all day Saturday: two hours of film, two hours on the floor. Then we spent two hours on film and two-and-a-half hours on the floor Sunday.
"We spent all weekend talking about Haddonfield," he said. "What I asked them to do was to be involved with the game plan and stay with it. We told them, ‘When things start going wrong, don’t revert back to the 1-on-1 thing,’ and I think we did that tonight.”
Collingswood entered the game as a major underdog not just because of the gap in the seeds, but because the Bulldawgs won two regular season meetings against the Panthers by an average of 25 points.
None of that seemed to matter in the first half, when the undersized Panthers used speed and grit to stay competitive.
“I think this was the first time this year where we legitimately stuck to the game plan for the whole game,” Dorney said. “The mental preparation matched physically with what we asked them to do and that gave us a chance.”
Haddonfield took over in the third quarter with 2:45 left when Nick Despersia and Chris Biddle hit back-to-back threes to put the Bulldawgs ahead, 40-29.
Biddle said the team knew Collingswood would be tougher to beat in the playoffs than in their first two meetings.
“We are pretty firm believers in ‘it’s hard to beat a team three times,’” said Biddle. “We know their guys; they know our guys; they know every play we run. At the end of the day, you've just got to make shots.”
Haddonfield made plenty of shots in the second half and the ones they missed often ended up in the hands of a player in a red and white jersey.
“We were daring them not to make jump shots because I don’t think we can extend on them and they are just too big inside with Biddle and (Abby) Bah in the post," Dorney said.
“We sagged a little bit and dared them to make jump shots and they are a No. 1 seed for a reason," he said. "They made jumpers and they were just a little too much for us in the second half.”
The good news for the Panthers (7-20) is that the majority of the roster will be back next year. Senior Ryan Dick (team-high 12 points) graduates, but Jordan Wallace, Tyree Mann-Barnes, Jeff Valentine, Ibrahim Kargbo and Marcquon Lawrence should all return.
Dorney, who spent the last decade coaching in the college ranks, said the key to future success will be having the entire team buy into a system.
“There is some ability but there has got to be a system in place,” he said. “They have to learn to play within a system.
"Some nights it will be your night and some nights it will be your teammates' night, and when it is all said and done, if you just defend and rebound, you will always give yourself a chance to win.”