The tip off was the tip-off.
Moorestown’s Nick Cartwright-Atkins, generously listed at 6-foot-1, stood in the circle with Ramapo’s 6-foot-11 Neal Quinn, a Lafayette College recruit.
If Cartwright-Atkins was intimidated, he had a funny way of showing it. He was dancing while waiting for the referee with the basketball to join the party.
“I was feeling the beat, feeling the moves,” Cartwright-Atkins said.
Two hours later, most of Moorestown was dancing, too.
With senior guard Jagger Zrada scoring 20 and Cartwright-Atkins generating 12 points and 12 rebounds, Moorestown won a state basketball championship for the first time in 60 years with a 58-44 victory over Ramapo Sunday night in the Group 3 title game at Rutgers University.
“There are no words for it,” said Zrada, who was 10-for-12 from the line in a foul-filled fourth quarter. “To be the team to win for the first time in 60 years, to put Moorestown basketball back in the spotlight, it’s just amazing.”
The last Moorestown team to win a state title was the 1959 squad, led by late legend Eddie Douglas – who scored 84 in a game – as well as future Pro Football Hall of Famer Dave Robinson.
Those guys led the Quakers to back-to-back undefeated state championship seasons in 1958 and 1959.
“Sixty years – I can’t process it,” Moorestown coach Shawn Anstey said. “This is something these guys will remember the rest of their lives. They will have that forever bond.”
With its 14th consecutive victory, Moorestown improved its record to 27-5 and advanced to the Tournament of Champions, which begins Wednesday night at Toms River North High School.
Junior guard Evan Francisco scored nine, including a 6-for-6 mark from the foul line in the fourth quarter, while senior guard Vinnie Caprarola buried a pair of three-pointers and finished with eight for the Quakers.
Moorestown’s defense collapsed on Quinn, who scored 13, daring the rest of the Raiders to pick up the slack.
Zrada led the offense in the first half, hitting a pair of three-pointers as well as a late runner for a 19-10 lead at the break.
The smaller, quicker Quakers spread the floor in the second half, forcing the North Jersey champions to chase and foul. In the fourth quarter, Moorestown scored all 24 of its points from the foul line, with Cartwright-Atkins going 6-for-10.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’m not the best foul-shot shooter,” Cartwright-Atkins said.
The Quakers’ victory came in front of a huge student section and hundreds of other fans, including Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who lives in the town.
The victory might have been 60 years in the making for the program, but it was close to 10 years for many of the Quakers’ seniors, who first joined forces in travel ball in fourth grade.
“We dreamed about it but it was so much better than we imagined,” Caprarola said. “Just to see so many people here, so many fans and to win it, it’s really an amazing feeling.”
When the final horn sounded, the team raced to celebrate with the student section, then took the championship trophy to display to a large group of adult fans.
“It’s really hard to describe,” senior guard Akhil Giri said. “When you hear that final buzzer and you hold that gold trophy, it finally sinks in that you’ve won a championship. It’s even better than we thought it would be.”
Moorestown 10 13 11 24 -- 58
Ramapo 8 8 7 21 -- 44
M: Jagger Zrada 20, Nick Cartwright-Atkins 12, Vinnie Caprarola 8, Evan Francisco 9, Brian McMonagle 4, Hayden Greer 1, Shane Knobloch 2.