Early tip, late surge for Rutherford at South Bergen Classic

Junior Matt Remias ripping down one of his 17 rebounds in Rutherford's 49-32 win over Hasbrouck Heights at the South Bergen Classic on Sunday at Becton.

EAST RUTHERFORD – The pre-noon tip off slot is not the most coveted, especially when it comes on the second leg of a back-to-back scenario. Throw in a cold winter’s day and an abbreviated warm up as part of a six-game slate and a team might struggle early. Rutherford did in the opening half of its matchup against Hasbrouck Heights at the 6th Annual South Bergen Classic at Becton High School.

With its weave offense above the 3-point line, Hasbrouck Heights forced Rutherford to hold its defensive stance for long stretches and every time it gave an inch it seemed like Damon Rivera was in the right spot to make the Bulldogs pay. The junior made three first half 3-pointers and Hasbrouck Heights kept the score low and had a one-point halftime lead.

“It’s always tough playing a back-to-back. We played Weehawken [on Saturday] in a very physical game and sometimes you come out and you just don’t have that same energy,” said Rutherford head coach Jamie Parnofiello. “Halftime wasn’t really about any adjustments. It was about really locking in our scout, understanding how well they could should the ball without having a practice to prepare, which is always a challenge. And give Heights credit; they shot the ball well.”

And then scored the first seven points to take the lead back and scored more points in the third quarter (22) than it did in the first half (15) of what turned into a 49-32 victory in the second of the six games on the Sunday slate in East Rutherford.

“All the credit to the opponent, but in the second half we just turned it up a notch. We put out a lot of energy on defense and that defense turned into offense,” said senior point guard Danny Francisco. “We started hitting some shots, we started making plays for others and it ended up working out in the end.”

Damon Rivera made 6 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 20 points for Hasbrouck Heights.

A lot has worked out in Rutherford’s favor this season, which was not necessarily expected from those outside of the program, at least. The Bulldogs improved to 14-2 on the season and have had their spot in the Bergen County Jamboree locked up for a while. Chris Gioia is the lone returning starter that was in the rotation last season and only a couple of other saw the varsity floor at all. Francisco and Matt Scheibe each missed last year with injury and there were whispers of a rebuilding process going on in Rutherford.

“We just use that as bulletin board material because we don’t plan on rebuilding anything. We planned on improving from last year,” said Parnofiello. “We see what we have as a program and most of these kids were on a successful JV team and basically just took the next step.”

Some of the Bulldogs have taken the bulletin board stuff to heart.

“We are looking to win right now. When everyone was talking rebuild they were just trying to get us all fired up,” said Scheibe. “For us seniors, we only have three seniors on the team, the goal is not to help get better for next year. We are looking to win this year and just focusing one game at a time.

Rutherford’s strength is its balance as no one player dominates the ball. The Bulldogs’ first 10 points against Heights came from four different scorers and they held a 10-7 lead after the opening period.

Danny Francisco had a team-high 13 points for Rutherford, which is now 14-2 on the season.

Rutherford went cold in the second quarter, however, and Rivera’s two 3s and another from Noah Robles accounted for all of the Aviators’ nine points in the quarter, which were enough for a 16-15 halftime edge. Francisco turned a steal and a layup into a conventional 3-point play to start the second half scoring and Rutherford used that as the catalyst for a 19-3 run that turned the game on its head.

By the time Evan Werner made Hasbrouck Heights’ second field goal of the second half, a 3-pointer from the top of the key five seconds left in the third quarter, Rutherford had extended to a 34-19 advantage and the Bulldogs were up 37-22 heading into the fourth.

Rivera, a junior in Heights’ four-guard lineup, hit two more 3s in the fourth quarter to give him six in the game and he finished with a game-high 20 points. Rivera made 7 of the Aviators’ 11 made field goals with Darien Baez adding four fourth quarter points, and Werner and Robles each adding a 3. Donovan Auriemma made both of his two free throws, the only two attempted by Heights (7-8) in the game.

Rutherford, on the other hand, spread the points around with seven different players making at least one field goal. Francisco (13 points) and Gioia (11 points) each finished in double figures and Matt Remias, the 6-foot-8 junior, added 8 points and 17 rebounds. Maximo Correa had 8 points off the bench, Scheibe made a couple of field goals, Chris Marullo made a 3-pointer.