SPRINGFIELD – Will Dayton continue to take the ball to the hoop as Union County’s only undefeated basketball team or will Summit bounce back from just its second loss – both by one point – to hand the visiting Bulldogs their first setback?
Another electric atmosphere is anticipated early this week when two of the top public school teams in Union County clash for the second time.
A marquee matchup is on tap for Tuesday night at 7 in Summit as the Hilltoppers will host the Dayton Bulldogs in their second Valley Division contest.
The first one was worth the price of admission as Dayton came back in the second half and then held off Summit 49-48 on Jan. 10 in a battle of 7-0 squads.
Since that contest, fans have been anxiously awaiting the rematch in Summit.
Also since that clash, Dayton has remained undefeated while Summit almost has.
While Dayton survived its game at Hillside, winning 42-41 back on Dec. 20, Summit didn’t.
The Hilltoppers lost at Hillside 66-65 Friday night, in another division battle that went down to the very last second.
That’s how close those three teams can be.
That put Dayton – Union County’s only undefeated basketball team at 13-0 – in the driver’s seat in its attempt to capture the Union County Conference’s Valley Division championship outright.
The Bulldogs, who lead the Valley Division at 10-0, will move closer to clinching the title should they win at Summit Tuesday night.
Summit, which is in second place in the Valley Division at 8-2, will need to beat Dayton to pull back to within a game of the Bulldogs.
While Dayton was winning its 13th straight to start the season with a more-than-convincing 62-27 division home win over Brearley Friday night, Summit was edged at Hillside to fall to 11-2 overall.
Summit’s loss at Hillside – the Hilltoppers first defeated the Comets 66-53 at home in division play on Jan. 15 – still doesn’t take the juice out of Tuesday night’s Dayton-at-Summit clash.
However, it did make it more difficult for Summit to win the Valley Division. Dayton will be heavily favored to beat Roselle Park, Oratory Prep and New Providence again, so even if Summit does beat Dayton, there’s a good chance the Bulldogs will remain one game ahead of the Hilltoppers en route to the title.
But first things first.
Tuesday’s game will be another measuring stick for both teams, with Dayton seeking to get back to the North 2, Group 1 final and win it this time, while Summit takes on a very challenging North 2, Group 3 field.
On Tuesday night, Summit will attempt to rebound from a loss that snapped a four-game winning streak following its division setback to the Bulldogs, while Dayton will be seeking a rare 14-0 start.
Summit, sparked by a game-high 26-point performance from senior Ba’Shawn Mickens, led Dayton by six at the half on Jan. 10 before the Bulldogs rallied – behind a team-high 21 points from senior Elijah Brown – in the final two quarters.
“We played a little bit better defense in the second half,” said Dayton head coach Bob Martin, who two years ago guided Dayton to the North 2, Group 1 title en route to the Group 1 state championship game at Rutgers. “We mixed it up a little bit with our man and our zone, but we made some shots in the fourth quarter and we got big some stops and that’s how you win close games.”
“We played as a team, for sure, and we worked together and everybody had energy,” said Brown, who led all players with 10 field goals.
Summit also received 11 points and seven rebounds from junior Ryan Sweeney and three points and a team-leading 10 boards from junior Matt Fischetti.
“Our big guys (Mac Wiesner, Robbie Walsh, Matt Fischetti and Ethan Chivers) were in early foul trouble,” first-year Summit head coach David White said. “That changes the way you’re able to attack.
“We also didn’t shoot the ball well. The Dayton gym is a tough gym to play in, it’s small and well-attended.”
After Dayton made one of two free throws to take a three-point lead with 10 seconds to go, Summit attempted a 3-pointer that missed, with the Hilltoppers putting in the rebound to fall one point short.
“We have to defend better than we did the last time and Friday night,” White said. “There was a lot of stuff that we didn’t do right which is a credit to both Dayton and Hillside.”
Friday night’s game was the only one Summit had this week. Next week the Hilltoppers have three division games.
“This was a strange week in that we played only once, with the kids taking exams,” White said. “We would have liked to have played Tuesday to have built up some intensity going into Friday’s game.”
Summit almost came back from a six-point, fourth-quarter deficit in the first Dayton game, while conversely leading Hillside by six in the fourth. After Summit missed a 1-and-1 free throw with a one-point lead against Hillside, the Comets came back to score a layup with two seconds left.
Mickens, who again led all scorers with 26 points, attempted a 3-pointer at the buzzer that did not fall.
“Mickens is our top scorer and that’s no secret,” White said. “If our front line guys are in the lane, finishing and playing well, that’s key.
“Wiesner had another double-double (11 points and 14 rebounds) Friday night. Walsh, at 6-8, has the potential to dominate a game. The only two games Walsh was in foul trouble were the two that we lost.”
Walsh had six points and three rebounds Friday night vs. Hillside and in the first Dayton game – after going to the bench in the first quarter with two fouls – finished with two points and six boards.
“Against Dayton and Hillside we had plenty of opportunities,” White said. “Hillside came out very hot and played a great game.”
Tuesday night’s Dayton-Summit game will also have county and state tournament ramifications as both seek to garner the highest possible seeds in both.
“It will have a tremendous bearing on the county tournament seedings,” White said.
The UCT will be seeded Feb. 6, while the cutoff date for games that count toward state tournament seeding – which this year went to a power points system – is Feb. 2.
“We’re 11-2 and both of our losses are by one point,” White said. “We, obviously, would prefer to be 13-0. I think, though, that if you went up to a coach during the summer and said that his team would be 11-2 after 13 games, most would sign up for that.
“Our job right now is to build on what we’re doing well and also what we’re not.”
Dayton hasn’t had many tough challenges on the road so far, which is one of the reasons that Tuesday night will be so big for the Bulldogs.
“We’re playing the right way,” Martin said. “We’re sharing the ball, we’re playing hard on defense and we’ve got some experience (Dayton returned starters Brown, Cioffi, and seniors Jared Clayton and Isaiah Rogers).
Summit has won 10 or more games for the first time since head coach Eugene Maxwell’s 2008-2009 squad finished 13-11.
The Hilltoppers are also 6-0 at home, including four Valley Division wins and two holiday tournament triumphs.
“It will be very tough to beat Summit at their place, we know that,” Martin said. “We know what’s on the line.
“It’s not going to be much different than the first game. We’re going to have to make some shots down the stretch and we’re going to have to play great defense.”
Dayton finished second in the Valley Division behind champion Roselle last year and the year before gained a share of the division title with Roselle and New Providence.
“I tell our players all the time, everything starts with the conference,” Martin said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been in this position and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
“To beat them on Tuesday we’re going to have to have our way in the paint and try to play tough,” Brown said.
Dayton senior guard Anthony Cioffi, who on Feb. 6 at school will sign his letter-of-intent to play football on scholarship at Rutgers, covered Mickens the first time.
“We played as a team and we weren’t as selfish as we usually are,” Cioffi said. “Everybody got around with the ball and we just cut through the defense.”
Summit would like to be the first team to beat Dayton and Dayton would like to hand Summit its first home loss.
“Now it’s going to be a challenge, this is where we make our regular season,” Cioffi said. “We have to see if we come together as a team and that’s how we have to play, as a team.”
NOTES: Hillside improved to 9-7 overall and 7-4 in the Valley Division with Friday night’s home win over Summit. The Comets split with Summit, lost their first division game against Oratory Prep 70-69 on the road Jan. 11 and were swept by Dayton.
DAYTON BULLDOGS (13-0, 10-0 in Valley Division):
Dec. 14: (H) Dayton 71, Johnson 42 – Valley Division
Dec. 18: (A) Dayton 60, Brearley 36 – Valley Division
Dec. 20: (A) Dayton 42, Hillside 41 – Valley Division
Dec. 27: (H) Dayton 80, Paramus 63 – Joe Pepe Tournament
Dec. 30: (H) Dayton 62, Hackettstown 44 – Joe Pepe Tournament
Jan. 4: (A) Dayton 64, Oratory Prep 40 – Valley Division
Jan. 8: (A) Dayton 64, Johnson 45 – Valley Division
Jan. 10: (H) Dayton 49, Summit 48 – Valley Division
Jan. 11: (A) Dayton 71, New Providence 43 – Valley Division
Jan. 15: (A) Dayton 67, Roselle Park 45 – Valley Division
Jan. 18: (H) Dayton 59, Hillside 49 – Valley Division
Jan. 24: (H) Dayton 88, Academy Charter 40
Jan. 25: (H) Dayton 62, Brearley 27 – Valley Division
Jan. 29 at Summit, 7 p.m. – Valley Division
Jan. 31 Roselle Park, 7 p.m. – Valley Division
Feb. 1 Oratory Prep, 7 p.m. – Valley Division
Feb. 5 Union Catholic, 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 New Providence, 7 p.m. – Valley Division
Feb. 15 at Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
Feb. 19 Warren Hills, 7 p.m.
SUMMIT HILLTOPPERS (11-2, 8-2 in Valley Division):
Dec. 14: (A) Summit 74, New Providence 56 – Valley Division
Dec. 18: (H) Summit 61, Oratory Prep 33 – Valley Division
Dec. 20: (A) Summit 69, Roselle Park 48 – Valley Division
Dec. 27: (H) Summit 59, Nutley 50 (OT) – Hilltopper Tournament
Dec. 28: (H) Summit 67, Morristown 64 (4OT) – Hilltopper Tournament
Jan. 4: (H) Summit 62, Brearley 52 – Valley Division
Jan. 8: (A) Summit 64, Whippany Park 53
Jan. 10: (A) Dayton 49, Summit 48 – Valley Division
Jan. 11: (A) Summit 62, Johnson 39 – Valley Division
Jan. 15: (H) Summit 66, Hillside 53 – Valley Division
Jan. 17: (A) Summit 70, Oratory Prep 44 – Valley Division
Jan. 19: (H) Summit 67, Roselle Park 48 – Valley Division
Jan. 25: (A) Hillside 66, Summit 65 – Valley Division
Jan. 29 Dayton, 7 p.m. – Valley Division
Jan. 31 at Brearley, 7 p.m. – Valley Division
Feb. 1 New Providence, 7 p.m. – Valley Division
Feb. 5 Cranford, 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 at Madison, 7 p.m.
Feb. 8 Johnson, 7 p.m. – Valley Division
Feb. 14 at Chatham, 7 p.m.
Feb. 21 at Verona, 7 p.m.