By Phil Anastasia

Inquirer Staff Writer

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Nhazier Smith tripped and fell to the floor and the referee blew his whistle and raised his hand.

With one minute and 41 seconds remaining in the Group 4 state final, the best era in Cherry Hill East basketball came to an end.

Jake Silpe, the Cougars' star senior guard, walked slowly to the bench, sat down and buried his face in a towel.

He couldn't bear to watch the final moments of Paterson Eastside's 50-34 victory over Cherry Hill East in the final game of his illustrious career.

"I'm so proud of my team," Silpe said, unsuccessfully trying to fight back tears in the interview room at Rutgers University. "We gave it everything we had."

Given the stakes and level of competition, the Penn-bound Silpe played one of his finest games before a huge crowd of Cherry Hill East supporters -- including six bus-loads of red-clad students -- as well as hundreds of other spectators.

Silpe scored 18 points with five rebounds. He was 6-for-8 from the field and 4-for-4 from the foul line.

He was 2-for-3 from three-point range and also converted two traditional three-point plays.

"Great players play great in big games," Cherry Hill East coach Dave Allen said of Silpe. "He did that for us all year and he did it for is today."

Silpe's sensational play and some solid work by his teammates wasn't nearly enough to overcome Paterson Eastside, a deep, long and talented squad that stunned defending state champion Linden in the state semifinals.

Paterson Eastside (26-6) dominated the backboards, outrebounding Cherry Hill East (26-6) by 35-18. The Ghosts collected 20 offensive rebounds, with 6-foot-7 senior Shukur Juiston grabbing 10.

"They're really good," Cherry Hill East senior guard Josh Brown said of Paterson Eastside. "They're going to do well in the Tournament of Champions."

Said Allen: "They are outstanding."

Cherry Hill East fell behind 10-0. The Ciougars were behind 24-12 after another 10-0 Paterson Eastside run. And they were behind by 39-27 early in the fourth quarter.

Each time, the Cougars rallied behind Silpe. He was strong with the basketball against the Ghosts' pressure, hit key shots from behind the three-point line and got in the lane for three-point plays.

"Watching film, we knew that was a great team," Silpe said of Paterson Eastside. "We knew they would out-rebound us. We knew it was a tough matchup.

"But we never gave up. We kept fighting back."

Cherry Hill East closed with 41-34 on a free throw by junior center Tim Perry with 2:16 to play.

But just 35 seconds later, Silpe picked up his fifth foul and the Cougars' last comeback came to a sudden end.

So did Silpe's career and the most successful era in Cherry Hill East basketball, with three appearances in the South Jersey Group 4 final, the first two sectional titles in the history of the program as well as the first appearance in the state championship game.

"I don't want any heads hanging," Allen said. "This was the best era in our history, in our 47 years."

Cherry Hill East 3 9 10 12 -- 34

Paterson Eastside 10 14 9 17 -- 50

CHE: Jake Silpe 18, Pierce Elliott 3, Olin McClendon 4, Tim Perry 5, Josh Brown 4.

PE: Asem Johnson 17, Nazir Smith 12, Aaryn Abrams 2, Shukar Juiston 8, Al Jumu Johnson 6, Terrell Griffin 2, Marquel Sheffield 3.

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com

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