Delsea stuns top-seeded Timber Creek in S.J. 3 tourney

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Delsea’s Nate Cox (left) and Javon Gordon react after beating Timber Creek.

Forget the Xs. Never mind the Os.

The strategy was simple: Play the game the right way at both ends of the floor, and the result would take care of itself.

For Delsea, that meant sharing the basketball on offense. That meant digging deep on defense. That meant rebounding with a ferocity that compensated for a lack of height.

Ultimately, it meant showcasing the Crusaders’ unselfish style in an 80-70 upset of top-seeded Timber Creek Friday in the semifinals of the South Jersey Group 3 tournament.

“They don’t make mistakes,” Timber Creek coach Rich Bolds said in a gracious nod to the guys who ended his team’s season. “Everybody is where they are supposed to be. Everybody is doing what he’s supposed to be doing.”

With clinical precision and obvious delight, fourth-seeded Delsea controlled play on the Chargers’ home court and advanced to Tuesday night’s South Jersey Group 3 championship game at second-seeded Seneca.

Seneca advanced with a 59-52 win over Ocean City.

Junior guard Javon Gordon scored 19 points with seven rebounds and four assists to lead the way for Delsea (24-5), which won its 11th game in a row and 16th in its last 17.

But it was a full team effort for the Crusaders, as all five starters – none of whom stand taller than 6-foot-1 — scored in double figures. Senior guard Kolby Braxton contributed 17 with 10 rebounds, while senior guard Nate Cox added 13 points. Senior forward Aziz Saud scored 13, and senior forward Will Hawkins contributed 11 points.

The Crusaders were nearly flawless against Chargers’ pressure defense, committing just eight turnovers. And they sealed the victory with clutch free-throw shooting, going 21 for 24 from the line in the fourth quarter.

“This win is everything to us,” said Braxton, who was 11 for 12 from the stripe in the final four minutes.

Braxton caught himself.

“Well, we have another game,” Braxton said, referring to the sectional final. “But this was huge for us.”

The loss was devastating for Timber Creek (20-7) and especially tough on the Chargers’ accomplished corps of seniors.

When the final buzzer sounded, Timber Creek senior Maurice Murray, who scored 26 points in his final game, fell to the court in dismay. Moments later, fellow senior Isaiah Sanders needed to be helped to his feet.

“It comes down to trust,” Bolds said. “Delsea trusted a little more than we did. If you don’t trust, this is the result.”

The victory was methodical but still magical for the Crusaders and their chanting students, who braved a snowy, blustery night and filled a large section of the Chargers’ gymnasium.

“I’ll tell you what sets these guys apart – our decision-making,” Delsea coach Tom Freeman said. “Gordon and Braxton [the team’s primary ball-handlers], when it comes to that, they are second to none.

“I don’t know if either of them had a turnover. They might have had one between them.”

The Crusaders got big plays from all five starters. Braxton’s late free-throw shooting was clutch. Cox hit a couple of early three-pointers and was 5 for 6 from the line down the stretch. Hawkins made some key jumpers. Saud was on fire in the third quarter, scoring nine.

The 5-foor-9 Gordon was a rock for 32 minutes He hit two big three-pointers in the first half, played a mistake-free floor game and converted the Crusaders’ biggest basket.

That came when Timber Creek cut the deficit to 63-57 and brought the home crowd to its feet, chanting for a defensive stop. But Gordon cut in the lane for a layup, and the Crusaders were able to seal the deal from the foul line.

For Freeman and his assistants, it was validation of their trust in their team.

“We were debating, ‘Do we change things up?’ ” Freeman said. “But the more we thought about it, the more you trust your gut. We said, ‘Let’s just go over there, and play our game. Let’s do what we do.’ ”

Delsea               18    14     19    29  –   80

Timber Creek   17     13    13    27   –  70

D: Kolby Braxton 17, Nat Cox 13, Will Hawkins 11, Aziz Saud 13, Javon Gordon 19, Kobey Evans 7.

TC: Maurice Murray 26, Isaiah Sanders 13, Dylan Elliott 14, Ricky Martin 5, Tim Schultice 5, Sean Miller 7.