Late in the third quarter, Dean Noll went coast-to-coast with the basketball, weaving his way through three defenders and finishing with a reverse scoop shot that kissed off the backboard and fell through the net.
That was Shawnee this season.
The Renegades went the distance. They played more games than any team in program history. And they left more than a few opponents in the dust.
In the end, Shawnee couldn't keep Don Bosco Prep off the offensive glass in a 49-39 loss in the Tournament of Champions semifinals Thursday night at Toms River North.
The game marked the career finale for Shawnee seniors such as Noll as well as Dylan Deveney and Daevon Robinson.
"I can't say enough about those three guys," Shawnee coach Joe Kessler said his trio of senior captains. "They are incredible players and incredible kids."
Noll was terrific in his last game, scoring 24 points with three steals and four rebounds for second-seeded Shawnee (29-5), the Group 4 state champion.
Noll, a 6-foot-1 guard, generated 13 points in the first quarter, when Shawnee burst to a 20-8 lead and ran to the bench under a shower of applause from the blue-clad faithful who made the trip to RWJ Barnabas Heath Arena.
"I was feeling it," Noll said. "I felt like I could go by them."
Noll's performance capped a Player of the Year-caliber season in which he averaged 22 points while playing close to 32 minutes every game and assuming most of the ball-handling load in the absence of injured junior Pat Kernan.
"Dean was incredible," Kessler said.
Said Robinson: "When Dean's in a zone, nobody in the state can stop him. He was on fire and when he's on fire, nobody is guarding him."
Foul trouble limited Robinson, the program's all-time leading rebounder. He picked up his second foul with three minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter and spent the rest of the period on the bench.
For the game, Robinson was able to play a little less than 21 minutes, limiting his ability to combat Don Bosco Prep seniors Marcellus Earlington and Ron Harper in the paint.
The 6-for-6 Earlington, a St. John's recruit, collected 14 points and 16 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds for second-seeded Don Bosco Prep (29-2), the Non-Public A champion.
"If Daevon is in there, it's a different story," Kessler said.
The 6-foot-6 Harper, a Rutgers recruit, scored 17 points and St. Peter's recruit Matt Herasme added 10, shooting 6-for-6 from the foul line, for Don Bosco Prep, which will meet top-seeded Roselle Catholic (28-4) in the Tournament of Champions title game Sunday in Trenton.
"They were a great team," Kessler said of Don Bosco Prep. "But our guys never quit. They fought and fought and fought."
The game turned in the second quarter, when Don Bosco Prep outscored Shawnee 13-2 to close within 22-21 at halftime.
"The second quarter killed us," Kessler said.
Shawnee fell behind 33-27 midway through the third quarter, but the Renegades closed the gap to 35-33 entering the final period.
Don Bosco's lead was 39-34, but Shawnee senior Kane Feudtner converted a three-point play after a Noll steal to cut the deficit to two with 2:01 on the clock.
"We played with so much heart," said Deveney said. "We always thought we were going to win this game."
Herasme made a layup at 1:30, then Harper made another on the next possession. The Ironmen closed out the victory from the foul line, with Harper going 2-for-2 and Herasme 4-for-4 from the stripe.
The horn sounded and Shawnee's starters filed into the handshake line, the long season over.
"I'm proud of my team," Noll said. "We all worked so hard to get this far. It was an amazing season. We just wish it could go a little farther."
Shawnee 20 2 11 6 – 39
Don Bosco Prep 8 13 14 14 – 49
S: Kane Feudtner 5, Daevon Robinson 0, Dean Noll 24, Connor Deveney 2, Dylan Deveney 8.