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Eastside rediscovers defensive identity to terminate Haddonfield’s 17-game win streak

SOMERDALE (N.J.) - Eastside High School coach Kenny Avent told his players he didn't care about the final score.

The hyperbole rooted as a motivational approach to implore his guys to increase their defensive effort and intensity.

The message was received as the Tigers, ranked fifth in the latest South Jersey Sports Zone Top 15 boys basketball rankings, overcame a halftime deficit and rallied past No. 7 Haddonfield, 45-35, in the Camden County Tournament quarterfinals at Sterling High School on Saturday.

"I told them, 'I don't care what the final score is,'" Avent said. "'I need the defensive effort and the energy to raise.' We let them play real comfortable in the first half. We didn't have a lot of ball pressure."

Eastside adjusted by identifying the Haddons' weaknesses and applying pressure on the ball. During the break, the Tigers discussed Haddonfield's discomfort when forced to navigate from right to left.

"We started off slow on defense," Jalen Long said. "(Before the) second half, we kind of thought about it in the locker room and kind of picked out their weaknesses. We saw they really couldn't dribble to their left hand so we picked up the pressure on defense."

Long paced the Tigers in the first half with six of his 11 points.

Sam Narducci scored 11 of his game-high 19 points for Haddonfield in the first half. Narducci also connected on three out of his five 3-pointers in the first half.

Eastside's Rashee Bell inaugurated the third quarter with a pair of buckets to tie the contest at 21-21. Narducci responded with his fourth triple to give Haddonfield its final lead.

Eastside responded by transforming a 26-23 deficit into a 37-26 lead with 5:41 left in regulation. Cairo Rivera delivered a vibrating slam dunk to cap the 14-0 run.

Rivera also splashed a 3-pointer from the left wing to conclude the third quarter after Titus Bacon drained a pair of free throws to give Eastside its first lead since the first quarter.

Rivera's timely shot created a five-point advantage and bolstered the Tigers' offense.

"At first we started off a little hot," Rivera said. "Then afterwards it was little minor mistakes that caused it to be a closer game than it should have been. After hitting that shot, it gave us the energy and the motivation to go harder.

"We knew it was win or go home. We had to play hard and leave it all on the court."

"Any team I've ever coached, when we playing well on defense, the offense starts clicking," Avent added. "We were able to come up with some stops. We were able to pressure them and make them play uncomfortable."

Despite Narducci's 19 points, the Tigers held each of the Haddons' four other starters to five points or less.

Haddonfield dropped its record to 23-4 and had its 17-game win streak snapped at the hands of the defending Group 3 state champions.

"I think today we got worn down," Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman said. "We've gone 13 days straight, no days off, and you could tell today. Two and a half quarters we kind of withstood it, and then that third quarter we kind of lost our bearings.

"They pressured us hard. We couldn't get in our sets."

The Tigers advanced to play Camden Catholic in the inaugural county tournament semifinals next Tuesday. Eastside has lost to the Irish twice this season, including a 70-55 setback last Thursday.

Avent has rewatched the film from Thursday, from start to finish, four times.

"It's a great opportunity for us," he said. "The Olympic Conference is a dog fight every night. It's the toughest conference, in my opinion, in the state. We just got to come to play. I'm looking forward to the opportunity.

"We didn't come to play on Thursday and they were the better team that night. We just got to continue to work on the little things and continue to try to get better everyday."

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