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Stella Johnson (4) provided a big lift for Morris Catholic with a career-high 23 points to help lead the way in 72-53 win over Saddle River Day in the Non-Public, North B state sectional semifinals in Denville. Morris Catholic will now meet Lodi-Immaculate, 5 p.m., Wednesday, in Non-Public, North B final at Paterson Kennedy High School in Silk City. (Photos by Gene Nann-nannphoto)
Rachel Mills (11) looks to help set up the offense for Morris Catholic in Saturday night's win
Head coach Rich Fachet instructs his Morris Catholic Crusaders on bench during a timeout
Morris Catholic's Charlotte Schum begins to move ball toward her team's basket as Stella Johnson (4) screens a Saddle River Day opponent during Saturday night's state tourney action.
Johnson’s Career-High 23 Points Huge
DENVILLE -- Alexa Giuliano had three assists for Morris Catholic during its 72-53 victory over Saddle River Day on Saturday night in the semifinal round of the NJSIAA North Jersey, Non-Public A tournament.
The senior guard also had an uncredited one, because it took place before the game at the Denville school.
Stella Johnson, a sophomore who has given the Crusaders plenty of effective minutes in a bench role this season, was going to start for the first time in her career. Giuilano sensed that Johnson was tense, so she sought her out before the game.
``You could tell she was a little nervous,'' Giuliano said. ``I told her she had nothing to worry about.''
Giuliano was her typical self, by hitting open jumpers and playing a solid overall game while finishing with 26 points in the Morris Catholic victory. But Johnson was right behind, after crushing her prior career-high point total and ending with 23 points as the Crusaders (24-1) won the their 21st straight game.
Johnson was told she'd be starting on Friday, after another player had committed a minor rule violation.
``I was a nervous, but once I got my first basket, it went away,'' said Johnson, who entered the game with a 4.6 point per-game scoring average and a single-game high of 15 points in a 48-36 win over Morristown-Beard on Jan. 27.
It helped Johnson that game was played a fast pace from the opening tip. Both teams hit their first three shots, and while Saddle River Day cooled down, Morris Catholic outscored the Rebels, 18-3, over the last 6:38 of the quarter for a commanding 21-9 lead.
Johnson ended the quarter with 11 points, while Giuliano sank three 3-pointers and scored nine.
``It was good that the game started like that,'' Giuliano said. ``I love it when it's played at that pace.''
Morris Catholic continued to play well in the second quarter. It reeled off nine straights, ending when Johnson fed Charlotte Schum for a basket, for a 36-17 advantage with 1:45 left in the half. The score was 36-21 at the break, with Giuliano supplying 15 points and Johnson 13.
The lead continued to grow in the third quarter. Giuliano opened the half with a personal 5-0 run for a 41-21 lead, and the Crusaders' advantage peaked when Schum nailed a 3-pointer for a 53-27 lead late in the period.
Saddle River Day made a mini-run to get within 56-41 with 5:45 left in the game, but after a missed shot by the Bergen team, Morris Catholic pushed the ball up the floor with Giuliano feeding Johnson for a basket. Johnson was also fouled on the play. She missed the free throw, but Morris Catholic gained the rebound and Giuliano canned a jumper for a 19-point advantage.
Schum finished with 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Crusaders, while Rachel Mills had seven points, six rebounds and five assists while also defending Izzy McMahon, the dangerous guard from Saddle River Day who ended with 13 points.
But the difference may have been the play of Johnson, which didn't surprise her teammates.
``Even when she's been out there as the sixth man, she's made a difference for us,'' Giuliano said. ``She's a good player.''
Notes: The victory advanced Morris Catholic to a North Jersey, Non-Public B final appearance against Lodi Immaculate that's scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday at Paterson Kennedy. ... Giuliano is now averaging 17.8 points on the season. Her 26-point performance tied for her third-highest output of the year. ... Schum's 11 points were two shy of her season high. ... Other than McMahon, a senior who fouled out of the game with just under two minutes left, the Saddle River Day roster is comprised of freshman and sophomores.
SADDLE RIVER DAY (53)
I. McMahon 2-3-0- 13, Deoul 3-0-0- 6, Hannigan 3-0-0- 6, D. McMahon 3-2-0- 12, Oge 5-0-2- 12, Christofi 1-0-0- 2, Cruz 1-0-0- 2, Garabo 0-0-0- 0, Crowly 0-0-0- 0.
TOTALS: 18-5-2- 53
MORRIS CATHOLIC (72)
Feeney 1-0-3- 5, Giuliano 6-4-2- 26, S. Johnson 10-1-0- 23, Mills 0-2-1- 7. Schum 2-1-4- 11, C. Johnson 0-0-0- 0, Garzon 0-0-0- 0, Denboskie 0-0-0- 0, Bliss 0-0-0- 0, Andolino 0-0-0- 0.
TOTALS: 19-8-10- 72
Saddle River Day (23-6) 9 12 13 19 -- 53
Morris Catholic (24-1) 21 15 19 17 -- 72
Follow Sean Reilly on Twitter @SeanReillyHS
Charlotte Schum (30), who contributed 11 points for Morris Catholic in Saturday night's game, begins to make her move to the basket while Saddle River Day's Izzy McMahon defends.
Saddle River Day's Izzy McMahon (12), who had 13 points, goes up for shot vs. Morris Catholic
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