Overtime belonged to the freshman phenom.
But Camden probably doesn’t get into the extra session with Wildwood Catholic without the work of junior Devin Benson.
Bouncing off the bench, Benson played perhaps his best game in a Camden uniform with 19 points and a key assist late in regulation during a pulse-pounding clash of two of South Jersey’s top teams Sunday at Neumann University.
“I’m proud of Devin because he was aggressive,” Camden coach Rick Brunson said after his team’s 63-54 victory before a capacity crowd of around 3,500 in the Mirenda Center. “We’ve been preaching to him all year to be aggressive and have the mentality of, ‘I don’t care if you make mistakes. Just play.’”
Benson, a junior left-hander, buried five three-pointers and made several key plays in the fourth quarter as Camden (21-1), the No. 1 team in the Inquirer South Jersey Top 10, won its 17th in a row.
Freshman D.J. Wagner scored 10 of Camden’s 12 points in overtime. He finished with 18 and drew Wildwood Catholic senior Jacob Hopping’s fifth foul on a drive to the rim with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left in overtime.
“DJ is the best freshman in the country, hands down,” Brunson said. “He kept battling, he kept grinding it out. We talk about it every day, ‘Just keep grinding.’”
Hopping led No. 3 Wildwood Catholic with 17 points, including a driving layup in traffic that beat the buzzer in regulation, tying the score at 51.
“He put us on his back,” Wildwood Catholic coach David DeWeese said of Hopping.
Senior Taj Thweatt, a West Virginia recruit, added 13 points on six dunks and senior Jahlil White, a Temple recruit, added 12 with a trio of three-pointers for Wildwood Catholic (16-7).
The loss was the fourth in five games for the Crusaders.
“For some reason we’ve had a difficult time finishing games at end,” DeWeese said.
With freshman point guards Cian Medley and Sebastian Robinson unavailable, Camden moved 6-foot-8 senior swingman Lance Ware, a Kentucky recruit, to the top to orchestrate the offense.
Ware generated nine points with seven rebounds and five assists.
“I like getting my teammates involved,” Ware said. “That’s better than scoring.”
Benson’s short jumper gave Camden a 48-45 lead with 4:05 left in regulation.
Wildwood Catholic rallied behind Hopping, who scored seven points in the fourth quarter and dished twice to Thweatt for dunks, including an alley-oop that brought the Wildwood Catholic fans to their feet.
Ahead 49-48, Hopping floated another alley-oop pass to Thweatt but the springy senior couldn’t corral the basketball.
“I thought that alley-oop was going to seal it,” DeWeese said.
Benson returned the favor at the other end, grabbing a loose ball in a scramble for a rebound and lofting a perfect alley-oop to Ware, whose dunk gave Camden a 50-49 lead at the 1:17 mark.
Camden junior TaQuan Woodley (six points, nine rebounds, three blocks) made one free throw for a 51-49 lead at 0:13, but Hopping banked home a layup at the buzzer to force overtime.
“He willed us in the fourth quarter,” DeWeese said of Hopping.
Wagner took over in the extra session, going 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line.
Brunson said he was proud to see his team, which has been comfortably in command of most of its games, respond to a late deficit and the pressure of overtime.
“Through the season, the ups and downs, everyone complains about how hard I coach, but this is why, games like this,” Brunson said. “Our kids did a great job. We grinded it out.”
Wildwood Catholic 9 15 14 13 3 – 54
Camden 18 14 10 9 12 – 63
WC: Martin Anguelov 5, Jacob Hopping 17, DeSean Lopez 5, Taj Thweatt 13, Jahlil White 12, David Zarfati 2.