Back healthy, Old Tappan picks up another quality win

Back from injury, senior Evan Brooks provided a lift to Old Tappan, which topped Pascack Valley, 58-43, on Thursday afternoon..

OLD TAPPAN -- Senior Evan Brooks, back for his second game since returning from injury, propelled Northern Valley/Old Tappan to its second straight big win in a 58-43 victory over Pascack Valley on Thursday afternoon. Old Tappan had also defeated Teaneck, 68-62, earlier in the week.

“It feels good to be back,” Brooks said. “I didn’t tell the guys I was coming back to practice Monday. So it was a really cool reaction when I walked into the gym.”

“Now we have the captain to steer the ship,” added freshman David Brennan, who led all scorers with 20 points. “He makes a big difference.”

The game got off to a very slow start with Brooks recording the only basket for Old Tappan in a 6-2 first quarter lead for Valley.

Panthers sophomore Dante DaCosta scored twice inside sandwiched around a basket by Knights sophomore Isaac Shrager to open the second quarter. Brennan got hot, hitting a jumper and draining a pair of 3-pointers to give the Knights a 16-12 lead. Panthers sophomore Liam Higgins answered with a trey but Brooks drove to the basket twice and junior Dylan Drullinsky swished a 3-pointer and Old Tappan took a 23-15 lead into the halftime intermission. 

“It’s been a tough stretch,” said Old Tappan coach Craig Ferraro. “We won a couple of games but they’ve been spaced out. We have a bunch of young guys and I keep telling them to stick with it. As coaches we see they are getting better but the kids sometimes don’t understand that. But we are getting better and better and playing really well together. We’re sharing the ball and it’s paying off.”

The Panthers came out smoking to open the third quarter. Junior Trevor Kirkby scored on a putback 30 seconds in. After Brooks scored on a jumper, Valley junior Devin Merker drove and scored and then tallied from in close to cut the Knights lead to 25-21. Merker finished with 15 points for Valley.

Old Tappan freshman David Brennan finished with a game-high 20 points.

“We knew we had to stop him (Kirkby) and get in on the glass,” said Ferraro. “We knew we had to get out to 42 (Merker). He’s a great shooter and they have a lot of great athletes. They’re big, they’re physical, they’re strong and Al [Coleman] is a great coach. It’s never easy. We game-planned and got ready for it and the kids did a great job focusing and doing what they had to do and we wound up in a good spot.”

After a timeout OT went on an 8-2 run to boost the lead back up to 10, 33-23. A trey by Panthers senior Shane Buoye halted the run but a basket by Brennan, a 3-pointer by junior Dylan Drullinsky and a drive to the basket by Brooks gave the Knights a 40-26 lead. 

“We have great athletes,” said Brennan. “They’re smart, they’re playing smart, they’re good scorers and do everything on the court. And with our one senior it all comes together.”

Brooks was the difference in the game. In addition to scoring 17 points he was the mainstay in moving the ball around, finding open teammates and all five starters scored at least 2 points in the game.

“Coach emphasizes in practice sharing the ball more,” said Brooks. “We have to get one more pass. He’s always saying, ‘one more, one more, one more’ all the time so it gets into our heads and we look for the open guy. If you have an open shot that’s good. But if you have one more shot that’s that much more time and the other guy gets to catch and shoot for a more wide open shot.”

Although Brooks is going to LIU this September to play football his skills on the basketball court are great. He believes that playing two sports helped him become “more agile and athletic.”

“My first sport ever was basketball,” he said. “I remember my dad taking me to a small church court in Norwood called Holy Family. I worked on ball handling drills there with a former point guard James Lamont, who is now at William & Mary. I worked with him and his dad. That’s where I really developed my skills and I kept it up through elementary school and middle school. I actually stopped playing football in seventh and eighth grade to start pursuing basketball more. That’s where I learned most of my agility skills.”

Drullinsky finished with 12 points and junior Nick Holloway chipped in with 7 for Old Tappan, while Valley got contributions from DaCosta (8), Higgins (8) and Buoye (7).  

“It was a great team effort - coaches, bench, everyone was into it,” said Brennan. “It was a great environment. It feels great. We started the season off rough but it’s coming along now. It's exciting - young guys in the gym. I’m looking forward to next year. We have a bunch of young guys ready to play.”

“At first it was a challenge to get everybody on the same page, sharing the ball,” added Brooks. “A lot of guys get frustrated because we’re a really competitive team and when things don’t go our way we show it. But we’ve gotten a lot better. When I got hurt and came back it was two completely different teams. These guys are a lot more composed now, we’re passing the ball and doing a lot of the right things we weren’t doing before.” 

“We have different guys stepping up in different games,” said Ferraro. “One day it’s one guy dumping in a couple of points and the next game it’s somebody else. When it’s a team win it’s great.”