Demarest's second best team might just be this year's quarterfinalist

Nick Gorenstein was one of three double digits scorers for NV/Demarest, which advanced to the Jambo quarterfinals for the first time since 1985 with a 61-57 overtime win over Pascack Valley.

TENAFLY – In April of 2023 Northern Valley/Demarest’s best-ever boys basketball team got together. The 1985 team that won the Bergen County Jamboree reassembled for its induction into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. The second best team in school history might just be playing right now.

Seeded sixth, the highest since 1985, and after a first round bye, also a first in the last 40 years, Demarest played its way back into the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Jamboree on Saturday for the first time since…of course it was 1985.

And the Norsemen had to earn it. Despite never trailing in the second half Demarest had to hold its breath as Pascack Valley had the final shot to win the game in regulation. Neither team made a field goal in the first 3:59 of the four minute overtime period, but seven made free throws were enough to push Demarest through to the Round of 8 with a 61-57 victory at Tenafly High School.

“I almost had a heart attack at the end,” said Nick Gorenstein, Demarest’s junior guard who made two of those overtime free throws. “It was a Jamboree game, we wanted to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in forever, there was a lot of pressure and we lost to PV early in the regular season. We all wanted to win and I thought we did a really good job of staying composed, fighting through the adversity and staying together as a team.”

Pascack Valley had come from nowhere to the cusp of the Jambo quarterfinals. After a 2-7 start to the season the Panthers (10-8) had won eight in a row to not only qualify for the Jambo but to do so comfortably as the No. 11 seed. They won by double digits against Rutherford in the opening round and were step-for-step with Demarest for 36 minutes on Saturday, especially in the second half after reeling the Norsemen in from their biggest lead of the game, 27-17, late in the second quarter.

Liam Higgins’ 3-pointer got Pascack Valley back to with 27-20 at the break and there would be no more double digits advantages the rest of the way.

Devin Merker finished with 19 points to lead Pascack Valley.

“We know them because they are a league opponent and I said to our guys when we got up [10] that they are not going away. They are going to keep coming. They are well-coached, there are good players over there and they have been playing great basketball since they beat us like two weeks ago,” said Demarest head coach Pat Gabriele. “We knew they were going to make their runs, but we tell the kids all the time that there is only one thing you can control and that is your effort. Keep playing hard and I thought we did a good job today of weathering the storm.”

Actually it was storms, because once PV reeled Demarest in it stayed right in its hip pocket. Devin Merker scored all six points in a 6-2 run that tied the game at 32, the first deadlock since it was 2-2, with 3:18 left in the third quarter and he combined with a Shane Buoye for a 5-0 run to close the period and tie the game at 39.

Demarest retook control with a 9-0 run to start the fourth. All five players on the floor contributed to that spurt as Matt Slowikowski hit a free throw, Zach Schweid made two more and then Gorenstein, Brandon Srebnik and Jake Goldenberg each made buckets to make it 48-39. Again, PV responded immediately with 3-pointers from Higgins and Buoye within the span of 18 seconds to close the gap to three points.

Every basket down the stretch was bigger than the next as Demarest tried to keep its nose in front. Srebnik hit two free throws for Demarest, Higgins answered with a 3 to make it a two-point game with 3:13 left in regulation. Srebnik got all the way to the bucket for a layup, Trevor Kirkby answered with a jumper from the corner and then Buoye’s drive and finish with 2:14 to go tied the game at 52.

The last lead of regulation belonged to the Norsemen when Goldenberg scored off a dime from Schweid, but Merker’s two free throws with 44 second to go retied the score and Demarest called a timeout. Holding for one shot, the Norsemen never got one off as a turnover with :04 remaining gave PV the last look, but a rushed jumper from the corner came up short and facilitated overtime.

Zach Schweid and Demarest will face third-seeded Ramapo in the quarterfinals.

“There were definitely nerves, but this was fun and luckily for us we had some experience,” said Goldenberg. “Last year at home we had an overtime win over Lyndhurst in the first round, so we have been through this before.”

The overtime was far from smooth for either side. Kirkby fouled out 1:44 into the extra session before either team had scored a point and Demarest made only half of its four free throw attempts to take a 56-54 lead with 1:08 left.

The game turned for good on the next possession when Pascack Valley was called for a 5-second , closely guarded violation at the hashmark. Whether it was or it wasn’t is up for debate, but it certainly would have been interesting to see how the game would have played out if that possession was allowed to continue through to its natural conclusion.

Instead it led to a parade to the Demarest free throw line where the Norsemen went 5 of 6 over the final 36 seconds to survive and advance.

Pascack Valley had seven different players make at least one field goal with Merker (19 points), Higgins (12) and Buoye (10) all finishing in double digits. Kirkby (6), Ryan Shea (5), Dante DaCosta (3) and Tyler Epstein rounded out the scoring for the Panthers.

Demarest has been hit by the injury bug recently so all of its scoring came from its five starters. Srebnik led the way with 21, Gorenstein (13) and Schweid (12) also reached double figures and Goldenberg added 9 as the lone interior option. Slowikowski scored 5 of his 6 points in the third quarter.

So now it is on to the quarterfinals where third-seeded Ramapo awaits. The Green Raiders are the reigning Group 3 state champions and are the de facto defending Bergen County public school champion as they were the only non-public to reach last year’s semifinal round.

The Norsemen face a tall order, but the outcome will be decided in 32 minutes of game clock at Hackensack High School next Saturday, not by prognostication.

“Games like that are the best because you have nothing to lose,” said Goldenberg. “We will go out, play hard, have fun and live with the results.”