Story by- Greg Matura / NorthJersey.com
Saddle River Day has emerged as the best boys basketball team in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference.
The unbeaten Rebels headed into Tuesday night action one victory away from becoming the first Bergen County school to clinch an automatic bid to the 63rd Jamboree. Teams with a minimum .650 winning percentage as of Jan. 22 make the tournament automatically.
Securing an automatic bid is a necessity for teams from the small-school NJIC, which don’t receive at-large bids based on strength of schedule. At-large bids are awarded to teams from the large-school Big North Conference.
The Jamboree Committee sent applications to athletic directors Monday night and they must be returned and “received” by Jan. 15 for the event, which opens Jan. 26.
Saddle River Day (9-0 entering Tuesday’s game vs. Park Ridge) likely represents the NJIC’s best chance to make a run at the Jamboree. Last season, Cresskill did the 36-team league proud by advancing to the semifinals en route to reaching the NJSIAA Group 1 final.
“We’re hoping to put ourselves in position where we can get a matchup,” Saddle River Day coach Anthony Gallo said. “And we’re not trying to win one, we’re trying to win two or three.”
Saddle River Day is among nine NJIC teams that entered Tuesday with better than a .650 winning percentage. The others: Hasbrouck Heights (8-1), Glen Rock (7-1), Emerson (6-1), Wood-Ridge (6-1), Elmwood Park (7-2), Bogota (5-2), St. Mary (5-2), Dwight-Englewood (4-2).
Saddle River Day’s success comes from quick ball movement and a balanced lineup featuring four double-digit scorers: junior Connor Cyran (17.1 points), seniors Nick Eiler (13.9) and Kevin Ranaghan (13.7), and sophomore Sebastian Gianotti (13.0).Cyran, Eiler, Ranaghan, and Gianotti combined for 69 points against Bogota to help Saddle River Day climb into sole possession of first place in the nine-team NJIC Patriot Division. The Rebels limited the Bucs to just four three-pointers and turned long misses into transition baskets.
“For sure, we’re trying to go undefeated in the league,” Gallo said. “We feel with our cast, our seniors, our sophomores, our juniors, if we come out and play the way we need to play, we should dominate and win every game.”
Saddle River Day did not win its first Jamboree game until 2014. Two years ago, the 17th-seeded Rebels lost their opener to No. 16 Bergen Tech, 48-45, with the Knights scoring the program’s first Jamboree win on a three-pointer that banked in at the buzzer. Ranaghan, Cyran and Eiler played in that game and it still stings Gallo and the Rebels.
“Coach Gallo covered it very well,” said Ranaghan, who listened to Gallo’s postgame interview before his interview. “I think our expectations for us are to win a game in the Jambo and progress even farther than that, and make a run if we can. And definitely going undefeated in our league is a major goal of ours.”