The Warriors’ bid for their first trip to the state Group 1 final since 2000 was shut down by Dayton of Union County in a 36-32 loss in Thursday night’s semifinal at East Orange Campus.
“They got a hand on every ball,” Palmadessa, a junior point guard, said after scoring 11 points. “And at some points we really didn’t know what to do.”
Still, Waldwick was tied entering the final minute, 32-32, thanks to its defense, but came up empty on its final four possessions. Twice, the Warriors turned over the ball, the first when they had possession with less than a minute left and the score tied at 32, and the other on an inbounds play.
“We battled and battled and battled,” Waldwick coach Adam Kaplan said.
“[Dayton is] a tough team and a physical team, and they played tough defense, and it was hard to get the looks we wanted.”
Dayton’s Elijah Brown had a huge second half, scoring all 12 of his points, including both ends of a one-and-one with 7.0 seconds left for a 36-32 lead.
The Bulldogs had taken a 34-32 lead with 41 seconds left on two free throws by Jared Clayton on a foul that he drew on a drive in transition.
Waldwick tied the score at 32 with 1:22 left in the fourth on a baseline drive by junior forward Connor Walsh (team-high 12 points). Walsh scored all of his points over the final three quarters.
Waldwick simply could not crack Dayton’s 3-2 zone, particularly in the second half. The Warriors shot 35 percent from the field (13-for-35). They shot 6-for-10 from the foul line, but missed four of their five free throws in the second half.
Waldwick only managed one basket in transition and it came in the fourth. Off a Dayton turnover, Warriors senior guard Zack Neugebauer passed ahead to Walsh for a layup to cut the deficit to 32-30 and trigger a Bulldogs’ timeout with 2:30 remaining.
“They’re very long, so it was tough for us to get looks that we were used to,” Kaplan said. “We were patient, but that’s a good defensive team we played.”
The same could be said for Waldwick. The Warriors’ zone alternated between a 3-2 and 1-2-2, and it slowed Dayton, which had a little luck on its side.
Both of the Bulldogs’ three-pointers banked in, one by Anthony Cioffi in the second quarter and the other by Brown in the third.
While Dayton struggled against Waldwick’s zone, it crashed the glass following the misses and created 11 second-chance points. The last one came from Brown late in the third, as he turned a put-back into a three-point play for 28-22 lead.
“For the most part, we played well on the defensive end,” Palmadessa said. “We didn’t get every rebound that we needed to, but we gave a hell of an effort.”