His football career over, Benowitz returns to help lift Tenafly to Jambo upset

In his first game back from a broken wrist Tenafly senior Reilly Benowitz made three 3-pointers in the Tigers 69-58 upset of No. 4 Ridgewood in the Bergen County Jamboree's Round of 16 on Saturday.

TENAFLY – Basketball practice was about to start and hoops was about to take over Reilly Benowitz’s life for the next four months. Tenafly’s senior captain decided to get one last game of pick-up football in with his buddies before heading into the gym.

And then?

“I broke my wrist on November 11,” said Benowitz. “I was playing football with my friends and it was stupid. I should have known better. It was just before the season, it was a mistake and it has been a long two months trying to get back on the court.”

Having not played a second of varsity basketball yet this season, Benowitz was finally cleared in time for Saturday’s Bergen County Tournament Round of 16 game against No. 4 Ridgewood in which his team, the No. 20 seed, was a decided underdog. Benowitz’s return was predictable as he came off the bench and boosted his team with his energy and leadership. He was scoreless in the first half, but Tenafly was the aggressor, it was playing loose and it had a six-point halftime lead.

By the time the third quarter rolled around, Benowitz found his footing and used the right one to hit the gas. He hit three third quarter 3-pointers, including one just before the buzzer, that capped a 12-2 run and broke the game wide open.

Tenafly scored 45 points in the middle two quarters and led by as many as 22 in a stress-free fourth period of a 69-56 victory that puts the Tigers in the Jambo quarterfinals for the first time since 2011. Next up is No. 5 Northern Highlands, which knocked out Dumont.

“ I am happy just to see Reilly back because I thought that was it, that he was done for the year and that he wouldn’t get to play his senior season,” said Tenafly head coach Jeff Koehler. “Happy for all of the seniors and for the other guys that got us here and then Reilly comes back, hits a couple of 3s and really got us going.”

Evan O'Reilly finished with a game-high 27 points for Ridgewood.

It was a back-and-forth first quarter that looked indicative of what was to come. It ended with Tenafly in front 9-8 and there were three lead changes in the second quarter when the Tigers started to test the idea of pulling away. An 8-0 run started with a Zach Shammash bucket and back-to-back 3s by Nick Lewin and Jake Yanofsky gave Tenafly a 28-21 lead before Ridgewood’s Johnny Jackson, one of North Jersey’s top pure scorers, hit back-to-back baskets to ease the Maroons back in it and they trailed by just six points, 31-25, at the break.

The next time Tenafly pressed the issue, however, Ridgewood had no answer. The Tigers scored 8 of the first 10 second half points, six of them on back-to-back 3s by Benowitz to go up 40-27, and the lead stayed in double digits the rest of the way. When Benowitz’s high-arcing 3 splashed through with three seconds left in the period, Tenafly had built a 54-33 lead and the outcome had been decided.

“It’s surreal. I haven’t felt this feeling about basketball for two years, since playing on our best team ever when we made it to the sectional final,” said Benowitz. “It was amazing feeling to play with my guys again and to make it to the Elite 8 of the counties is amazing.”

Ridgewood’s offense was concentrated in the hands of Jackson and Evan O’Reilly. They were the only two Maroons to score in the first half and other than a third quarter field goal by Jake Roth, a fourth quarter free throw by Tyler Nesland and a 3-pointer by Rick Son with less than 30 seconds to go in the game, Jackson and O’Reilly scored all of Ridgewood’s second half points, too. O’Reilly made four 3s and was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line on the way to a game-high 27 points. Jackson showed off his midrange game as 8 of his 9 field goals were from inside the arc and he finished with 23 points.

Jake Yanofsky scored 13 of his 15 points in the middle two quarters as Tenafly pulled away.

Tenafly’s offense was the opposite as Nick Lewin (16 points, 3 3s), Jake Yanofsky (15 points, 3 3s), Dan Regev (13 points) and Benowitz (13 points, 3 3s) all finished in double figures. Senior point guard Yuval Guttman (6 points, 4-for-4 FTs) distributed smartly and stayed away from turnovers, Shammash made both of his field goals in the second quarter from in the post to help keep the defense honest and Lucas Boudakian, another senior just back from injury, added a field goal for Tenafly.

So now it is on to the quarterfinals for a team that snuck into the tournament with a buzzer-beating win over Dumont and another over Paramus in the Last Chance Showcase and then escaped the first round with a 79-76 win in front of a packed house in Lyndhurst.

Koehler was the girls coach when the Tigers pulled on of the greatest upsets of that Tournament, a win over top-seeded Pascack Valley as the No. 16 seed in 2003. Twenty-one years later the 20th-seeded boys team is just one win away and is getting the kind of community support that can sustain the tournament magic.

“This is a great program win. I want to see kids when they are walking around Tenafly, they see this and they want to stay here. I get a lot of it is parents, but I would want to be the guy to live in the town and change the program. We’ve seen it here; [Rylie] Theuerkauf (the all-time leading scorer in Tenafly high school history now playing at Wake Forest), Chris Orozco, Johnny Angbazo…they all stayed,” said Koehler. “I want the ones who want to be the guy, not be one of the guys. It’s great that these guys have stuck together and we are going to keep working.”