They were a team without a home, practicing at the middle school, taking a bus to every game over the course of the long season.
They finally planted a flag on Sunday, right at midcourt of the Rutgers Athletic Center.
“This is our house,” Haddonfield’s boisterous student section chanted in the final seconds of the Bulldawgs’ imposing 62-45 victory over Newark Central in the Group 2 state championship game.
With clinical precision and obvious delight, Haddonfield dominated play against a North Jersey champion under the bright lights of the home floor of the state university.
Junior guard Mike DePersia scored 22 points and senior guard Will Bond bounced off the bench to score 13 for Haddonfield (29-3), which won its sixth state title and first since capturing three in a row from 2004-06.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman, who has directed the last four Bulldawgs championship squads and played on the 1989 title team.
Junior forward Dylan Heine scored 10 points and junior swingman Aiden Blake contributed four rebounds and four assists for Haddonfield, which advances to this week’s Tournament of Champions.
“This means the world to me,” said Bond, who missed 17 games this season with a broken wrist. “To win a state championship senior year, it means the world.”
Haddonfield broke the game open with an 11-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter, taking irrefutable command by turning a 39-33 lead into a 50-33 advantage.
The surge showcased the Bulldawgs’ balance and ball movement as junior forward Dan Fleming opened the run with a bucket, DePersia scored five, Bond made a pair of free throws and Heine converted a reverse layup for a 17-point lead with five minutes, 24 seconds to play.
“The fourth quarter was unbelievable,” Wiedeman said.
Another element in Haddonfield’s dominance: The Bulldawgs were 21-for-25 from the foul line, with DePersia (11-for-12) and Bond (7-for-7) combining to shoot 18-for-19 from the stripe.
“That doesn’t hurt,” Wiedeman said.
The victory was especially sweet given the season’s unusual circumstances, as the Haddonfield basketball team, like the school’s South Jersey championship football team, was forced to play all its games on the road because of construction at the school.
“This was our 36th bus ride,” counting scrimmages, Wiedeman said.
In addition, there were injuries including the loss of Bond, who was the team’s leading scorer when he landed hard on his wrist Jan. 16, for much of the season.
And the team was forced to practice in the middle school, although the Bulldawgs sometimes were unable to use the full facility. “Sometimes, we had half the middle-school court,” Wiedeman said.
Haddonfield junior guard Lewis Evans, a linebacker on the football team, said the adversity strengthened both teams.
“The coaches always said, ‘Who cares?’” Evans said. “Just put the ball down and play.”
Haddonfield played most of its “home” games at Cherry Hill East. But it was forced to host four-time sectional champion Camden at Cherry Hill West in the semifinals because the Cougars’ court was unavailable.
The Bulldawgs won that game in overtime. They beat highly touted Central Jersey champion Rumson-Fair Haven in the state semifinals.
And in the state final, they made themselves at home on the floor with the big red “R’ at half court, leading from wire to wire and pulling away with a fourth-quarter performance that should live forever in Haddonfield basketball lore.
“This season, with these circumstances,” Wiedeman said, shaking his head in wonder, “with all the adversity this team has gone through, I’m just so proud of this team.”
Newark Central 10 12 11 12 – 45
Haddonfield 15 15 9 23 – 62
NC: Zarique Nutter 3, Dee-End McRae 17, Jihad Evans 4, Keith Rogers 4, Joel Simmons 5, Shaquan Clark 10, Isaiah Smith 2.
H: Aiden Blake 1, Dan Fleming 4, Dylan Heine 10, Mike DePersia 22, Ben Schroeter 8, Lewis Evans 2, Will Bond 13, Mike Schroeter 2.