By Phil Anastasia
Inquirer Staff Writer
They had the lead in the fourth quarter of the state championship game.
They missed some key free throws and rushed a couple of shots from the floor.
They lost to Newark Tech in the Group 2 championship game.
"Last year it was there and they stole it," Camden coach John Valore said. "This year it was there and they stole it."
History repeated itself in frustrating fashion for the Camden High School boys' basketball team on Sunday in a 57-51 loss to Newark Tech in the Group 2 title game in the Rutgers Athletic Center.
For the second year in a row, Camden move to the brink of capturing the fabled program's 12th state title -- and first since 2000.
For the second year in a row, Camden entered the fourth quarter with a lead over Newark Tech.
For the second year in a row, the North Jersey team controlled the game's final eight minutes and sent Camden's players, coaches and enthusiastic fans back down the New Jersey Turnpike with a disappointing loss.
"I can't believe it happened," Camden senior Rasool Hinson said after the final game of his career.
The loss was Camden's third in three years in the state finals. Camden also lost in the Group 3 finals in 2013, although the Panthers didn't have the lead late in that loss to Newark Eastside.
"Three years in a row -- that's real tough," said senior Wil McCants, one of four Camden players who were regulars in all three games. "I thought this year we had it."
Senior guard Mustafa Lawrence scored 15 of his 28 in the fourth quarter for Newark Tech (15-13), which won its third straight Group 2 state title.
Hinson scored 17 with eight rebounds for Camden (25-7).
The Panthers shot just 17-for-31 from the foul line and just 4-for-20 from three-point range.
Newark Tech, by comparison, was 14-for-16 from the foul line in the second half, including 10-for-11 in the fourth quarter.
"We started the year 10-for-21 (from the line in a loss to Eastern) and we ended it 17-for-31," Valore said. "It's been the same story in every one of our seven losses this year."
Camden also was hampered by foul trouble in a game in which 48 fouls were called. Camden juniors Brad Hawkins and Jamal Holloway spent large stretches of the game on the bench.
"It was hard to watch," said Holloway, the team's leading scorer and rebounder who was limited to 19 minutes by foul trouble.
Hawkins, the team's second-leading scorer and most explosive offensive player, was on the floor for just 22 minutes and fouled out with 4:35 remaining in the game.
"It was tough but I got myself in that situation," Hawkins said.
Camden got good work from reserves Tory Whiting (6 points) and Dustin Singleton (four points, four rebounds) to stay in contention with its top scorers on the bench.
Holloway made one of two free throws to tie the score at 50-50 with 2:06 left.
After a Lawrence bucket, Hinson made one of two free throws to pull Camden within 52-51 at the 0:56 mark.
Newark Tech senior forward Jordan Zagadou made two free throws at 0:48. Camden missed a three-pointer and Lawrence shook loose for a breakaway layup at 0:32 before Zagadou closed the scoring with another free throw at 0:17.
Newark Tech outscored Camden 19-8 in the fourth quarter in 2014. It was 22-10 this year.
"It was last year once again, no question about it," Valore said.
Camden 12 15 14 10 -- 51
Newark Tech 17 8 10 22 -- 57
C: Brad Hawkins 6, Jamal Holloway 7, Rasool Hinson 17, Will McCants 4, Myles Thompson 7, Tory Whiting 6, Dustin Singleton 4.
NT: Jordan Zagadou 18, Mustafa Lawrence 28, Jalah Wemusa 2, C.J. Webb 7, Jurod Page 2.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at email@example.com