Camden’s drive for the fabled basketball program’s 12th state title was supposed to continue Thursday night in a near-empty gymnasium.
Now it looks like the Panthers might have to wait until 2021 for another chance to hoist the state championship trophy.
Camden’s game vs. Manasquan in the Group 2 state semifinals has been canceled as the Manasquan School District announced on Twitter that the team has withdrawn from the state tournament because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
“In consultation with our school physician, Manasquan has decided to withdraw from the NJSIAA boys basketball tournament so tonight’s scheduled game is canceled. Keeping our students safe is our top priority,” the school district wrote on a Twitter post at around 3:40 p.m.
Another Group 2 sectional champion, North 2 winner Hackettstown, announced earlier Thursday that it was withdrawing from the tournament. Hackettstown was supposed to play North 1 Group 2 winner Ramsey in the state semifinals.
So unless the NJSIAA advances both Camden and Ramsey by forfeit and has them play in the state final this weekend — an increasingly unlikely scenario, given rising concerns over the spread of the coronavirus and decisions by college and professional teams to cancel competitions — the season will be over for the Panthers.
Earlier Thursday, the NJSIAA announced that Camden’s game against Manasquan at Toms River North would be played without fans in attendance as a precautionary measure.
Only teams, coaches, essential school personnel, media and security were to be in attendance at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena on the campus of Toms River North High School.
Also on Thursday, Central Jersey Group 4 champion South Brunswick, which was scheduled to meet South Jersey champion Atlantic City in the state semifinals, withdrew from the tournament.
Two girls’ state tournament games on Thursday were scheduled to be played without fans. Those were matchups in Group 3 between Westampton Tech and Ocean City and in Group 1 between Woodbury and Bound Brook, both at Deptford.
The NJSIAA has not announced plans for state championship games, which are tentatively scheduled for this weekend at sites to be determined. Phillipsburg High, which was scheduled to host the games after Rutgers University withdrew its availability, has decided not to serve as the site for the state finals.
Camden (29-1), the South Jersey Group 2 champion, has won 25 in a row. The Panthers, who are No. 1 in the state in nj.com rankings, are seeking the program’s first state title since 2000.
Manasquan (31-1) is ranked No. 6 in the state and was regarded by most observers as Camden’s toughest opponent in the Group 2 field. Manasquan, the Shore Conference champion as well as the Central Jersey Group 2 champion, had won 21 in a row.