Late surge lifts Dumont past Manchester in State tournament by Rich Barton of

DUMONT – As Dumont seniors Wendell Magusara and John Ahkao broke the huddle they knew exactly what they needed to do without saying a word. With just over a minute to play and clinging to a two-point lead, Magusara was inbounding the ball at the mid-court stripe. Conventional basketball wisdom would say to just go for the safe pass and get the ball in bounds. But with two experienced players executing the play and the Huskies’ season hanging in the balance, there was no hesitation on what decision would be.

While not considered the safe play it turned to be the correct one. Ahkao curled around a screen and sprinted towards the basket. Magusara zipped a pass over the top of the defense and hit Ahkao in stride for the layup with 1:05 to play as seventh-seeded Dumont closed the game on a 13-3 run to survive a stern test from No. 10 seed Manchester in the first round of the North 1, Group 2 state sectional tournament with a 52-47 win at Dumont High School.

Both teams struggled offensively with neither scoring for the first three minutes of the game. After hitting just one three-pointer all season, that coming in the season-opener, Magusara collected a loose ball and in one motion turned to hoist a 40-foot shot that banked in at the first-quarter buzzer to give Dumont a 14-7 lead.

The Huskies got the home crowd going crazy by making plays on the defensive end of the floor. They took six charges in the first half to get the entire Manchester starting five in foul trouble and extend the lead to 11 points. The young Falcons hung tough and trimmed the deficit to a manageable margin, 25-19, by halftime.

Asim Jones finished with 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists for Manchester, which finished the season with a 14-11 record.

Three starters had three fouls and the other two had two for Manchester heading into the second half. In a regular-season game the strategy would be to manage the game by milking the clock and using the bench, but in a win-or-go home situation it was all hands on deck. The Falcons kept the starting five out there and stayed aggressive. That worked right out of the gate in the second half as three Husky turnovers in their first four possessions led to a 10-0 run. Justin Rosa capped the run with a one-handed floater off the glass to put Manchester in front, 29-25.

“At halftime we saw that Manchester was a team that wasn’t going to give up,” said Ahkao. “Whenever we turned the ball over they capitalized on it. We had to keep pushing, we had to step up. That started with taking care of the ball and getting stops.”

Dumont grabbed the lead back on a Domenick Barlow three from the corner and an Ahkao layup. The Falcons refused to go away quietly with a Rosa three from the wing for 42-39 lead with 4:29 to play. It was then that the seniors realized that it might not just be the last game on the Huskies’ home court, but their last game in a Dumont uniform, period.

Ahkao scored on a driving layup to put Dumont back in front and Magusara followed on the next possession by hitting Barlow with a nice interior bounce pass for another layup. As time wound down the Huskies were still holding onto to a tenuous two-point lead and head coach Ken Martoral took a timeout to diagram a play.

Dominick Barlow had a double-double for Dumont, which will visit Hawthorne in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

“Our coach is a smart man and comes with up with good plays on the spot during timeouts. We just had to execute,” said Magusara. “It’s always important to take care of the ball. I saw that their last guy was creeping and I knew (Ahkao) was going to the basket so I waited then hit him with the pass just as coach drew it up.”

Coming back onto the court Magusara, a three-year starter, and Ahkao got the defensive set-up they were looking for. Ahkao took a step towards the backcourt before curling all the way to the rim. Magusara hit him with a perfect pass for an easy layup to make it 47-43. Ahkao also came up clutch at the foul line. Three times he headed to the line for a one-and-one. He hit the front end all three times and five straight free-throws overall to ice the game.

“Wendell is a coach’s dream, it’s like having another coach on the floor,” said Dumont head coach Ken Martoral. “He’s the type of kid who isn’t going to get you 30, but he always makes the right decision and he always has an impact on the game just like he did tonight.”

Ahkao scored 10 of his game-high 27 points during the final run for Dumont (17-7). Barlow added 12 points and 12 rebounds. Magusara scored all of his nine points in the first half and notched a game-high five assists.

Asim Jones finished with 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists for Manchester, which finished the season with a 14-11 record.

Dumont advances to the North 1, Group 2 quarterfinals on Wednesday. They will face second-seeded Hawthorne, a 72-55 first-round winner over Morris Tech, on Monday. The Huskies are happy to be moving on, but know that they must put forth a better performance in order to keep their season afloat.

“This tournament isn’t a walk in the park and this is a wake-up call for us,” said Ahkao. “We have to bring our ‘A’ game every single night or we’ll be going home. As we go further in the tournament, teams get harder and the competition gets better. We will be ready for practice and try to be as sharp as we can heading into Wednesday.”