IRVINGTON, NJ — For high school teams, the opportunity to play for a state championship is the ultimate goal.
The Irvington High School boys basketball team received that opportunity, but COVID-19 snatched it away.
The Blue Knights rallied to beat Ramapo, 68-57, March 11 at Bloomfield High School. The win advanced the Blue Knights to the Group 3 state championship game on March 15 at Rutgers University. It marked the first time they advanced to a Group state final since 1993 when they won the Group 4 title.
But at around 10 p.m. on March 12, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association announced that the rest of the high school basketball season would be canceled due to the COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic.
The Blue Knights, under sixth-year head coach Elias Brantley, a 2006 IHS graduate, ended the season on an eight-game winning streak and finished with a stellar 28-3 record. It is believed to be the most wins in a season in program history.
After beating Colonia, 71-37, to win the North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 tournament title at home on March 9, the Blue Knights overcame a slow start to defeat Ramapo in the Group 3 semifinals.
Irvington trailed 13-11 at the end of the first quarter and 25-21 at the half, but dominated in the third quarter, out-scoring Ramapo, 24-12, to take a 45-37 lead. Senior forward Kymani Dunbar had 14 points with four three-pointers in the third quarter and finished with a game-high 25 points and five three-pointers.
Senior guard Karriem Thomas finished with 19 points, senior forward Moses Pierre had 15, senior forward Zaheem Crawford had four, senior point guard Dezlyn Sebastien had three and junior guard Jahzaire Head added two. Ramapo, the North Jersey Section 1 champion, finished with a 21-8 record. Timber Creek, the South Jersey champion, defeated Central Jersey champion Wall, 60-57, in overtime in the other Group 3 semifinal to improve to 25-5. Wall finished 24-7.
Because of the virus, the NJSIAA announced March 11 that the site of all the Group public boys finals would be changed from Rutgers to Phillipsburg, with no fans in attendance. Later that night,
it was announced that Phillipsburg would no longer host the games.
The next day, even though a few Group boys and girls semifinal games were being played in front of no fans, the NJSIAA made the decision to cancel the rest of the high school season, which included all the Group boys and girls finals for public and non-public, and the ensuing boys and girls state Tournament of Champions.
IHS won its first sectional title since 1993 when they won the North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 crown.
Photos by Steve Ellmore
Irvington vs. Ramapo (Group 3 state semifinal, March 11 at Bloomfield HS)