The dunk was an exclamation point.
For Camden High senior Lance Ware, it was an emphatic closing note of another sensational performance by the Panthers against a top-caliber opponent.
“I had to,” Ware said of his slam in the final seconds of Camden’s 63-51 victory over Roselle Catholic Thursday night at the Mirenda Center on the campus of Neumann University in Aston, Pa.
Ware noted that Roselle Catholic had beaten Camden, 97-66, last season in a game in which the North Jersey non-public power had taken a 56-26 halftime lead.
This is a different season.
This is a different Camden, too.
The Panthers showed that with their victory over national power Ranchco Christian (Cal.) on Saturday at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.
This win was a statewide statement, a New Jersey news alert. In a clash of two of the top four teams in nj,.com’s state rankings, Camden dominated the second half and rolled to its ninth straight victory.
Ware, a 6-9 swingman and Kentucky recruit, scored 17 points with eight rebounds, capping the victory with a double-pump dunk as chants of “You Want The High, You Got the High” reverberated through the arena.
Junior center TaQuan Woodley added 14 points with eight rebounds, plus some sensational defensive work on Roselle Catholic 6-9 senior Cliff Omoyuri, a four-star recruit by rivals.com with scholarship offers from Kentucky, Memphis, Arizona, and about 20 other programs.
“We have TaQuan Woodley, great defender,” said Ware, the only Camden player who was made available to talk with the media. “I’ll go against any big with him. We go against each other every day in practice.
“So we come into games like this, he’s not worried about it and I’m not worried about it. We’re just going to do what we need to do.”
Junior Jerome Brewer added added 15 points and freshman D.J. Wagner came alive in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and three assists for Camden (13-1), the No. 1 team in The Inquirer’s South Jersey Top 10.
Senior guard C.J. Wilcher, a Xavier recruit, scored 21 and Omoyuri finished with seven points and 11 rebounds for Roselle Catholic (7-4).
“They outplayed us in the second half,” Wilcher said. “We didn’t match their energy.”
The second-half rally was another sign of Camden’s growth under first-year coach Rick Brunson, a former NBA player and coach. Brunson, who doesn’t speak with the media, walked the sideline wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with a Panther emblem and with “Make History” written in purple and gold.
“We went in at half down four [28-24] and Coach said, ‘Win the third quarter’ and we won the third quarter,” Ware said. “He said, ‘Take care of the fourth quarter’ and we took care of the fourth quarter.”
Camden, which entered the national rankings this week at No. 25 by MaxPreps, broke the game open with a 17-5 advantage in the third quarter. The 6-7 Woodley scored 10 in the period, muscling inside for offensive rebounds and put-backs and making a jumper that sat on the rim and dropped through at the buzzer.
Wagner scored seven points as the Panthers put the game away in the fourth quarter, burying his second three-pointer, finishing a baseline drive, and splashing a sweet, step-back jumper that brought much of the pro-Camden crowd to its feet.
“We’re playing pretty solid,” Ware said. “There’s always stuff to improve on. We’ve got to go back to practice and continue to work.”
Ware said his dunk with around 0:05 on the clock was part celebration of another statement victory, and part payback for Roselle Catholic’s lopsided victory a year ago.
“They were doing it to us last year, so I had to do it back,” Ware said.
Asked if the win over the Lions put the rest of the state on notice of Camden’s capability this season, Ware said, “I think everybody was already on notice. We’re just on to the next game. Nothing crazy.”
Roselle Catholic 8 20 5 18 – 51
Camden 17 7 17 22 – 63
RC: Cliff Omoyuri 7, CJ Wilcher 21, Joshua Rivera 7, Corey Floyd 7, Simeon Wilcher 9.
C: Lance Ware 17, DJ Wagner 12, Jerome Brewer 15, TaQuan Woodley 14, Sebastian Robinson 2, Devin Benson 3.