Plainfield's top players could have called this a statement game or perhaps cited resentment over the team's lower ranking than Teaneck, and yet they just kept using some form of the word hungry to describe their motivation for a stunning 84-62 victory Wednesday night.
"I guess we were the hungrier team," senior forward Diijon Allen Jordan said. "We all dug in deep and played as a team and pushed the ball like we were supposed to."
And then there was senior forward Jahmal Lane:
"We wanted to come out hungry today. We wanted to locate their scorers and get them out of the game early."
And senior point guard Sekou Harris:
"Everybody on the team is trying to stay hungry and humble."
Fine, except that hunger usually connotes an absence, an unfulfilled pang, a yearning for something of which you've been deprived.
Plainfield, No. 5 in the MSG Varsity Top 15, hardly fits that description as the defending state Group 3 champion and reigning Union County Tournament winner. About the only thing the Cardinals didn't have was Teaneck's undefeated status.
Ah, ha, maybe we have something there now. Get after one of the few teams with something you lack, and do so with great fervor, which it did.
And although it's impossible to be considered perfect with three losses, at least you can strive to be perfect on a given night, and the Cardinals just about were.
Harris and Allen-Jordan pumped in 24 points apiece and Lane and senior forward Justin Sears scored 12 apiece to lead Plainfield (27-3) to overwhelming rout against No. 3 and unbeaten Teaneck in the NJSIAA/ShopRite Group 3 semifinal before a capacity crowd of about 1,700 at East Orange Campus.
Plainfield will defend its title at 7 p.m. Saturday against Neptune at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. Teaneck (31-1) ended its season for the second consecutive year against the Cardinals.
Last year's game went down to the wire, though. No one expected Plainfield to charge out to a 20-8 first-quarter lead and be in front, 42-19, by the end of the half. No one but the guys who were contesting every shot, running the floor with speed and precision and making one superb decision after another with the dependable Harris at the controls.
"Sekou did a great job," Sears said. "He pushed the ball, he played great defense on their point guard. He was a floor general out there. He involved everyone and looked for his shots."
Harris was 10 of 16 from the floor and finished with nine assists and three steals to help the Cardinals stretch their winning streak to 11 games. And while he was knocking down shots and creating others for his teammates, the 6-7 Sears and 6-5 Allen-Jordan were very busy disrupting shots.
Sears came up with six blocks, five in the first half, and Allen-Jordan recorded three, all in the first 16 minutes.
"They do a great job help side defense," Harris said. "Even when guards get past our guards, they always do a great job blocking shots."
It would be nearly impossible to find someone on the Plainfield team who did not a great job of something. For instance, the outstanding defense of both Ed Anderson and Taylor Plummer, who shared the duty of covering Teaneck star Chris Jones and held him to 13 points. Five came in the last three minutes of the game after Plainfield had forged a 77-48 lead.
"They frustrated Chris Jones from the beginning of the game to the end of the game," Harris said. "They did a great job."
Junior guard Shaakir Lindsey popped in 27 points and Hernandez scored 11 for Teaneck, but the Highwaymen's offense was sporadic against Plainfield's fierce man-to-man and their defense simply could not contain the lightning-quick Harris and the uptempo game he oversaw.
"We knew they wouldn't be getting back on defense, so we just tried to push the ball and tried to get them out of the game early," Harris said. "Everybody played well. Everybody was on the same page, and we did backdoor cuts, we ran the ball on fast breaks and we got everyone involved."
That's a credit to Harris, who moved the ball 90 miles an hour on every opportunity, but seemed to be seeing everything before him in slow motion. This team scored 42 points in the opening half on 16-of-29 shooting and committed only two turnovers.
"Sekou is a wonderful point guard," Allen-Jordan said. "I love him like my brother. We've all got the same chemistry."
Allen-Jordan just had a little more lift than most with his three blocks, six rebounds and also three dunks. Two of those came during an 18-6 run over the last 4:59 of the second quarter.
"It's all about chemistry," he said. "Knowing where your teammate is gonna be one minute, and then the next minute, you're taking the shot. We got open shots and passed the ball around."
And no matter what Plainfield did here, it could never erase its three losses. But it did its best to play like a perfect team. Mission accomplished.
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS