The boys’ basketball rivalry is alive and well between East Brunswick High School and Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen.
That fact was supported when Saint Joseph trimmed East Brunswick, 70-66, on Jan. 16 in Metuchen.
Saint Joseph erased a 66-65 deficit when the Falcons sank four free throws in the final minute to end the game.
Sophomore forward K-Shawn Schulters hit two free throws to give the Falcons a 67-66 lead, and sophomore guard Tyree Taganeca-Ford finished the game off when he hit on three foul shots.
East Brunswick had gained a 66-65 edge with one minute to play when senior guard Joe Sampson connected on a 3-point basket.
Saint Joseph was paced in the victory by Taganeca-Ford, who finished with 20 points, and Schulters, who delivered 19 points. Junior Howard McBurnie contributed to the triumph with 12 points.
Sampson and sophomore point guard Travis Cumber led the Bears with 19 points each, while junior Xavier Fitzgerald produced 13 points.
The game’s atmosphere was intense. East Brunswick’s followers produced plenty of noise as the visitors to the Saint Joseph gym.
The game even attracted players from other schools, including Spotswood High School’s senior point guard, Abdullah Nieskens.
Saint Joseph coach Michael Thompson wasn’t surprised with the game’s atmosphere.
“This is a rivalry game,” he said. “Whether you’re up by double-digits or down by double-digits, it’s come down to the wire. I think we just made one more play than they did. It’s nothing more than that. [East Brunswick] is a good team. They’re dangerous. We’re fortunate to know them really well, so we know what we’re up against. There’s going to be teams that might look at the record and underestimate them. That’s going to be a fatal mistake on their part.”
“We just played as a team,” Schulters said. “We stuck together through the adversity and even through the crowd. We just trusted each other, and we were able to come out with the win.”
The Falcons won by a landslide at Piscataway Township High School, 82-66, on Jan. 18, but lost at Seton Hall Preparatory High School, 75-63, on Jan. 20.
The Falcons hold an 11-3 record thus far this season.
Thompson believed that the game against East Brunswick sets the team up for success down the road when it plays some of the other powerhouses in the state.
“Again, it goes to this being a great rivalry game,” the coach said. “It’s our first game of the second round of games in our division. So it sets us off on a good pace. … It doesn’t get any easier. This was a great first test for us.”
“It shows us how tough we can be,” Schulters said. “When we play the way we’re supposed to play, we can win these tough games. It shows we can play against the powerhouse teams … if we play together.”
East Brunswick coach Mark Motusesky was pleased with the Bears’ effort but was disappointed in their defensive execution.
“The kids competed hard, but we gave up way too many easy baskets,” he said. “We’re a much better team defensively than that. If we’re going to give up 70 points then we’re not going to win many games. But, we cut it to two, we turned it over and gave up easy baskets, so we were back down 11. We fought back, took the lead, then gave up some more easy baskets, so we just have to be better defensively. If we play better defensively, then we can beat anybody. We just weren’t anywhere where we need to be defensively, so that’s what did us in tonight.”
Cumber also thought East Brunswick’s defense needed to improve.
“[In the] first half, we came out firing,” he said. “We were playing well. Coach was drawing up some plays, but I don’t think we were moving the ball the way we should have. We also weren’t getting back on defense. Our transition defense was bad after the first quarter. We definitely need to work on that. And, like I said, coach drew up some plays, and guys were out of position, so we need to work on our offensive execution as well.”
The Bears bounced back from the loss, beating John P. Stevens High School, 45-38, on Jan. 18 in Edison and Bridgewater-Raritan High School, 51-48, on Jan. 20 in Bridgewater.
East Brunswick is .500 on the season with a 6-6 record.