Highlands shines on the big stage

Lucas Dipasupil finished with 22 points and 7 assists for Northen Highlands, which knocked out Tenafly, 75-46, in the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Jamboree.

HACKENSACK – Inside the Big North Conference Northern Highlands is a known commodity, a talented team with a point guard that is tough to stay in front of, but Saturday was really the Highlanders’ stepping out. In Bergen County’s biggest gym, in front of partisans and others there just out of the love of the tradition of the Bergen County Jamboree, Northern Highlands rushed the big stage.

With an 11-0 run that started 37 seconds into the second quarter fifth-seeded Northern Highlands turned a five-point lead into a double digit spread and maintained it the rest of the way in a 60-36 win over No. 20 Tenafly at Hackensack High School.

“Our goal going into the season was to change the culture,” said junior Lucas Dipasupil, the above mentioned point guard. “We wanted to be one of those top teams in North Jersey and show people what we can really do.”

What the Highlanders have done is become the fifth team in program history to make it to the Jambo semifinals. They went in 1975 and lost to Hackensack. They went in 1982 and lost to Leonia. They went in 1992, won and reached the final for the only time ever and they went in 2004 and lost to St. Joseph Regional. So when they play top-seeded and defending champion Don Bosco Prep in this year’s Final 4 there really is nothing to lose.

Dipasupil will get to see where he stands against Dylan Harper, who will likely be a top 10 draft pick just over one year from now and senior center Freddie Kanning, who is listed at 6-foot-3, will get a taste of guarding a 7-footer in Bosco sophomore Keiner Asprilla. Bosco blew out St. Mary 70-31 in the quarterfinals and while the Ironmen don’t play many public schools, none of the four that it has played has lost by less than double digits. Ramapo, the defending Group 3 state champion that has four returning starters, lost by 14 in Franklin Lakes on January 25.

Nick Lewin finished with 12 points for Tenafly.

“It’s really a huge opportunity and it is really an honor to be a part of with all of these guys. It’s been so fun throughout the year,” said Kanning. “Getting to play on the big stage in front of so many people is so much fun and we are going to go in there with a nothing-to-lose mentality.”

The Highlanders came out fast and loose against Tenafly, too. Sawyer Chapler hit a 3-pointer 10 seconds in and, after ties and 3 and 5, the Highlanders really took control. Jeffrey Weinberger’s basket from the baseline 2:34 into the game gave Highlands the lead for good at 7-5. Chapler added a free throw and Dipasupil two 3-pointers in the span of just 26 seconds to make it a 9-0 run and a 14-5 lead.

Highlands led 15-8 after the first quarter and a 14-0 run that started with a Dipasupil bucket 37 second in the second and ended with Pharoahe Dixon’s 3-pointer from the corner that made it 29-10 with 3:54 left in the half. The lead never dipped below double digits after that.

For as good as Northern Highlands was offensively, it was just as effective on the defensive end against a red hot Tenafly team that shot the lights out in its upset of fourth-seeded Ridgewood last weekend.

“They can score a lot of points and they can really shoot the ball. Our goal was to really get in their face and not allow them to take the shots that they wanted to take,” said Highlands head coach Jonathan Schmitt. “I thought our guys just executed defensively. We didn’t allow them to get those looks that they were getting in other games. We rebounded, we pushed the ball and we kind of stopped them in transition.”

Dipasupil led all scorers with 22 points to go with 7 assists and Kanning added 14. Jake Yanofsky (13 points) and Nick Lewin (12) finished in double figures for Tenafly, the No. 20 seed that was making its first quarterfinal appearance since 2011.

Highlands is one of the last four team standing in the Jambo for the first time in 20 years.

“I think it is a great opportunity for us. We take it one game at a time and I tell these guys all the time to just keep the trust in what we are going,” said Schmitt. “Our goal was to win the first game of the tournament and then it became to win this one. That is the way we will continue going forward.”