Well-balanced effort propels Technology
Neither Kenneth Faried nor Mike McFadden has worn a Newark Technology uniform for several years now.
But you might not have realized that judging purely by Tuesday’s game.
The Panthers entered the contest with only five victories and were facing a team that manhandled them one month ago, yet seemed to channel the tough, confident, full-bodied play of those former Technology stars to pull out a 62-52 upset against Caldwell at First Avenue School in Newark.
Senior guard Keith Mahatha scored 15 points (all on 3-pointers) and junior guard Jelani Butler scored 13 points and provided boundless defensive energy for the Panthers. Senior forward Ja’Mir Joyner scored 11 points and did his best Faried impression with 17 rebounds and two blocks and junior guard Darian Gonzalez chipped in with 11 points and seven assists. Senior guard Dave Levinsky poured in 25 points and had 13 rebounds for Caldwell (12-9).
“This was our best win in three seasons, no question,” Technology head coach Dave Bellani said. “This was a quality win for us, and quality wins have been few and far between for us the past couple of years.”
Technology was a shining star in Newark and a serious Group 1 contender when guys like Faried (a 2007 grad now with the Denver Nuggets) and McFadden (’09, now at Robert Morris University) were patrolling the paint. The Panthers averaged 17 wins from 2005-06 through 2008-09, yet have claimed just 13 total victories since then.
But on Tuesday, which was Senior Day, incidentally, Technology had the look of a team in search of continued success, of possible glory, not just answers as to what went wrong.
Technology did not have any solutions when it last faced Caldwell on Jan. 12, falling behind by 16 points in the first half on the way to a 67-37 loss. The Panthers did not qualify for the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 tournament for a third straight year, while Caldwell earned the No. 8 seed in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2.
The deck looked a little stacked against Technology on this day, but that was OK by Butler. Hey, if the wiry, 5-9 guard had no problem stepping in front of 6-4, 225-pound Levinsky three times in attempts to draw charges, then he sure wasn’t going to worry about what was written on paper about this matchup.
“We knew we weren’t making it to the states, but we knew we had to stay hungry, had to stay humble,” Butler said. “We knew we had to box out, get rebounds and knew we had to stay aggressive on them.”
The 6-3 Joyner was the model of aggressiveness with seven of his 17 rebounds in the opening quarter to help limit second chances for Caldwell and keep the ball alive for teammate Curtis George, who netted all of his eight points in the first quarter to help the Panthers force a 13-13 tie.
Levinsky, a lethal mix of strong and crafty, was a problem for Technology from the start, just as had been last month with 21 points in that 30-point win. He popped in eight points in the first quarter Tuesday and followed with seven more in the second as Caldwell grabbed a 29-27 lead.
“Some people might have thought we would just fold, but we’re never gonna give up. Ever,” Joyner said. “We’re gonna keep playing hard. We’re gonna ride this season out with everything we have.”
Technology looked like it had plenty . The Panthers commanded a 38-30 edge on the glass, shot 12 of 18 from the foul line, knocked down eight threes, produced 10 steals and committed only 10 turnovers. Not the kind of thorough numbers a struggling team generally throws up against a quality opponent.
“This is how we’re capable of playing,” Bellani said. “Maybe not this well all the time, but certainly good enough to be a solid team. It’s like everybody has had sort of mini transformations the last three games.”
The Panthers defeated American History of Newark, 66-51, on Monday and trailed a good Montclair Kimberley team by just three after the third quarter before falling, 60-46, last Thursday. Bellani’s kids have kept things close in a number of games, but have not found the resources to complete the job.
“Sometimes we stay in games defensively, but we’re not scoring the ball,” he said. “This year we’ve been susceptible to 8-0 runs, 10-0 runs because we can’t put the ball in the basket. But today we executed very well. And nice to do it on Senior Day.”
Mahatha was the featured upperclassman in the third quarter by sticking three 3-pointers to spark an 18-12 showing. He opened the period with a bomb from the right wing and closed it with one from the left wing for a 45-41 lead.
“We know where to find Keith,” Butler said. “We dribble drive, create space for him and kick it out. He’s a senior, he knows how to play and we know he can make those shots.”
Levinsky can make shots, too, and did with a runner at the start of the fourth quarter to pull Caldwell to within 45-43. But Mahatha answered with another trey just 10 seconds later to spark an 11-3 run that put Technology in front, 56-46 with 3:36 remaining.
“This feels good. I’m loving playing with these guys,” Joyner said. He started as a freshman along with McFadden on the 2008-09 team that went 18-7. “I’ve been here four years and this is the most excited I’ve ever been. We’re a family and we’re gonna stay a family. No matter what.”
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS