Camden’s pursuit of a record-setting 52-game win streak and South Jersey high school basketball lore came to a fateful end against national powerhouse Montverde Academy in humbling fashion. The Panthers were outclassed for four quarters against the fifth-ranked Eagles in a 52-40 loss in the headliner of the Metro Classic at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton on Thursday night.
Camden entered the contest at No. 2 on ESPN’s national rankings, shouldering a 44-game win streak. Seven more wins and they would have tied the record at 51, set by Moorestown and Camden in 1960. But their streak was snapped with their first loss since Dec. 30, 2019, when they fell to Roman Catholic, 70-59.
What felt like the Panthers’ entire fan base came out to see the star-studded matchup between two of the best players in the country, Camden’s D.J. Wagner and Montverde’s Dariq Whitehead.
Courtside seats along the floor were filled with bright yellow “Wagner 21″ hoodies. But by the midway point of the fourth quarter, a subsection of fans began making their way toward the exit.
Montverde read the scouting report on Camden and followed it to a tee.
Wagner attacked the lane with persistence but to no avail. He came off screens and was met by double teams. And defenders closed passing lanes when he played off the ball. The Eagles suffocated Wagner, holding Rivals’ No. 1 nationally ranked player to just four points.
Taking Camden out of its comfort zone offensively and, in turn, scoring transition baskets in bunches helped Montverde jump out to a 22-4 lead by the end of the first quarter — its largest lead of the night.
Panthers coach Rick Brunson pivoted to a 2-3 zone defense to start the second quarter in response to Montverde’s interior scoring. That switch briefly grounded the Eagles, but wasn’t enough.
Wagner, who played all 32 minutes, made a more concerted effort to find open scoring lanes for his teammates when Montverde brought multiple defenders. The game never quite felt within reach despite Camden trimming the deficit to 11 points twice in the second half.
Aaron Bradshaw, a 7-foot junior, led Camden with 17 points and six rebounds. Point guard Cian Medley set the table for them offensively and found ways to get other guys involved, including forward Cornelius Robinson, who chipped in six points.
Whitehead, one of four players signed to play for Duke coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer proved to be the best player on the floor. The Montverde wing poured in a game-high 18 points, making his mark early with a breakaway jam and later sinking a pair of threes.
Dillon Mitchell, a 6-foot-8 forward committed to Texas, chipped in 13 and played a large part in containing Wagner.
Camden’s schedule doesn’t get much easier.
This weekend Brunson’s team will head north to Springfield, Mass., for the annual Hoophall Classic. They’re scheduled to face No. 22-ranked Calvary Christian (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and Milton (Ga.).
Its next high-profile matchup comes against Bronny James, UCLA commit Amari Bailey and Sierra Canyon on Jan. 29 — the game that could have been a shot at the record-setting 52nd win.