Hackensack runs past Clifton

Shawn Reckley scored 20 points for Hackensack, which advanced to the North 1, Group 4 state sectional smifinals with a 92-60 win over Clifton.

HACKENSACK -- Throughout the regular season, Hackensack has had its ups and downs, but when the Comets come out strong and play fast paced basketball from the start, they usually win.

Facing a Clifton team fresh off of a huge upset win first-round North 1, Group 4 state sectional tournament over second-seeded Morristown, the Comets never deviated from their aggressive game plan. On Wednesday night, however, it was Hackensack that built up early momentum game and never took its foot off the gas pedal. 

Khalil Baker pumped in a career-high 26 points and electrifying senior guard Shawn Reckley added 20 as No. 10 seed Hackensack led wire-to-wire and pulled away in the second quarter to advance to the North 1, Group 4 semifinals with a 92-60 triumph over 15th-seeded Clifton at Hackensack High School.

Hackensack plays a fast paced game reliant on turnovers. With Clifton turning the ball over 10 times in the first quarter, the Comets pushed the temp to their liking early on and Baker was a beneficiary. He owned the paint early and his presence on the boards was felt by the Mustangs. Alongside Baker was senior Shawn Reckley, who is amongst the top scoring guards in New Jersey. 

“I had a bad game in the first round and I had to come ready to play today,” said Baker. “We had a chance to win at home tonight and we took it.”

Despite seven turnovers in the first four minutes of the game, Clifton was able to keep the score close as it ended the first quarter only down by four points. 

The Mustangs were unable to find answers to Hackensack’s aggressive full-court press in the second quarter and it finally proved costly. The Comets forced 10 more turnovers in the second quarter for a total of 20 in the half. Led by the duo of Baker and Reckley, the Comets outscored Clifton 24-5 to take a commanding 42-19 halftime lead.

Clifton's Kyle Vellis 14 points, including the 1,000th of his high school career.

“We grew up here and we’ve all been playing together since we were little so we knew what to do; tonight we played Hackensack basketball,” said Reckley. “We’re not just a basketball team, we’re a track team. We’re well conditioned so no matter who we play we don’t run out of gas.”

Any hopes of a second half comeback by Clifton were quickly dashed as the Comets continued to create havoc defensively. The lone bright spot for Clifton was Kyle Vellis, who scored on a spin move late in the third quarter to notch the 1,000th point of his career in his final high school game.

John Judkins had a second straight solid performance in state tournament play for Hackensack (17-11), following up a 21-point effort in a first-round win over Memorial by dropping in 15 points. Eric Afrifa finished with 12 points. Vellis led the way for Clifton (11-17) with 14 points.

Moving forward, Hackensack heads to the semifinal round full of confidence. The Comets will take on third-seeded Paterson Kennedy on Friday night for a spot in the North 1, Group 4 section final. Despite their struggles early in the season, the Comets have shown that they peaking at the right time and are playing some of their best basketball as they move through the state tournament.

“We want to play fast and think our depth is our strength,” emphasized Hackensack head coach Aaron Taylor. “When we force turnovers and can get an inside-outside combination going it is very difficult to defend us.”