Willingboro and Langhorne top Wildwood and Johnson

Posted: March 20, 2002

ELIZABETH, N.J. — It's amazing what a few jump shots can do for a team's confidence - not to mention its offensive production.

After hitting just one jumper and trailing by seven points in the first half, Willingboro found enough range from outside to complement another dominating performance by Crystal Langhorne to defeat Wildwood, 73-62, in last night's Tournament of Champions semifinal at the Dunn Center.

The last time these two teams met, Willingboro beat Wildwood, 70-43, in a first-round TOC game in 2000. But last night's game was much closer than the final score indicated. Wildwood cut Willingboro's lead to 63-58 on a close shot by Lana Harshaw with 2 minutes, 10 seconds left. From there, Willingboro went on a 6-0 run to take a 69-58 lead with just 1:05 remaining.

The run was keyed by Gabrielle Ratliff's 16-footer, a layup by Lateisha Wade on a feed from Ratliff, and two free throws by freshman guard Tammy Meyers.

Second-seeded Willingboro will play Trenton in Sunday's TOC championship game at noon at the Continental Airlines Arena. Trenton beat Rumson-Fair Haven, 46-36, in last night's other semifinal game.

It marked the second straight year and fourth overall since the TOC inception in 1989 that a team from the seven-county South Jersey area has earned a berth in the final. Sterling became the first local team to win the title last year.

Ranked No. 1 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, Willingboro improved to 28-1. Sixth-seeded and No. 2-ranked Wildwood finished its season 27-5.

Langhorne continued a series of dominating performances. The 6-foot-2 sophomore scored 31 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and shot 13 for 14 from the field, scoring all of her field goals from within a few feet.

"Nobody could stop Langhorne herself, and we tried to give help and let the others shoot from the outside," Wildwood coach Dave Troiano said. "To Willingboro's credit, they made the outside shots in the second half."

"At the half, I knew I was playing a good game," Langhorne said. "I knew sooner or later we would all have to step up in the second half, and we did."

The game ended the brilliant career of 5-3 Wildwood dynamo Monica Johnson, who finished with a hard-earned 32 points. The all-time leading scorer in South Jersey girls' basketball history, Johnson ended with 3,173 points. But she shot just 12 for 41 from the field in her final high school game. In the game's final minute, Johnson was taken out of the contest, and she had a long embrace with Troiano.

"Ever since I was in sixth grade, Coach Troiano has been pushing me," Johnson said. "I love him to death and will really miss playing for him and playing here."

Johnson, who is rarely impressed by an opponent, gave Langhorne her due.

"She's so big and so tough," Johnson said.

Wildwood did an excellent job of spacing in taking a 31-24 halftime lead. Willingboro began in a zone defense but went to man-to-man late in the first quarter. The Warriors then spread the floor and had Johnson work one-on-one, usually on freshman Nicole Trawick. No one person can keep up with Johnson's quickness, and Trawick, a 5-5 freshman, was no exception.

When Willingboro picked Johnson up, she either hit an open teammate, scored on a driving layup, or drew a foul. Johnson, who had been 13 for 47 in her previous two games from the field, still wasn't on the mark. In the first half, she was 7 for 22 from the field in scoring 17 points.

Conversely, Willingboro just couldn't buy an outside shot. The Chimeras went into their comfort zone, which was feeding Langhorne, who entered the game averaging 26 points. Langhorne scored 18 of the Chimeras' 24 first-half points and was 8 for 9 from the field.

Wildwood stayed in its zone in the first half and dared the other Chimeras to shoot from the outside, and the strategy worked. Other than Langhorne, the rest of the Chimeras were 3 for 13 from the field, and only one field goal, a 12-foot pull-up jumper from Wade, was from the perimeter.

The third quarter was a different story. Willingboro outscored the Warriors, 20-10, and hit five jumpers beginning with a 15-footer from Meyers.

"They were leaving us open, and we had to start taking the jumpers and hitting them," Willingboro coach Guy Fowler said.

Wade, a sophomore guard, was a big part of the second-half surge, hitting 16 of her 18 points in the final two quarters. Ratliff scored 11 points and sank a key three-point field goal that gave the Chimeras the lead for good, 39-37, with 2:25 left in the third quarter.

Once the outside shots began falling, Willingboro's inside-outside combo proved too much for the Warriors.

Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.

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