South Brunswick boys’ basketball turning around season with team play

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Tyrell Murchison is only a sophomore at South Brunswick High School.

Boys’ basketball coaches do not usually count on underclassmen to win close varsity games.

But that’s exactly what South Brunswick’s coach, Joe Hoehman, did on Jan. 31 in Monmouth Junction.

The Vikings were playing a tight one with rival East Brunswick High School. They had the lead, but they couldn’t put the visiting Bears away. Then Murchison, a left handed slasher, lifted the Vikings onto his skinny sophomore back.

First, near mid court, Murchison ripped the ball out of an East Brunswick player’s hands, raced down the floor, laid the ball in and got fouled. He made the free throw to put South Brunswick up by seven, its largest lead of the second half, with just minutes to go.

After South Brunswick stretched its lead to nine, Murchison drove the lane and sank two more layups, stretching the advantage to double digits and, at long last, putting the Bears away.

South Brunswick won, 59-47, and its sophomore guard scored 18 points. But while Murchison played the closer role, he was not even South Brunswick’s best player on Jan. 31. Justin Carbone led the Vikings with 20 points.

These are the Vikings of this winter: a team with a lot of good players, but no standouts. They play tight defense, box out and share the ball on offense. Anyone can take over at any moment, like Murchison did at the end of the East Brunswick clash.

“All of our points came off defense,” said Murchison after the East Brunswick victory. “Then I just saw an open lane and attacked it every time.”

“We have five guys that can go off. They feed off one another,” Hoehman said. “Then it’s pick your poison. If you decide who you’re going to shut down, it opens things up for other people.”

Two years ago, South Brunswick went 21-5, reached the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament semifinals and lost to Sayreville War Memorial High School, 69-65. The Vikings also qualified for the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament, falling in the first round to East Brunswick, 53-42.

But after that successful campaign, most of Hoehman’s rotation players graduated. Last year’s Vikings were so young and inexperienced that they finished 1-18.

Hoehman was not sure what to expect coming into this winter. His team was still pretty young and inexperienced. But after an 0-6 start, the Vikings grew into themselves.

They started to play the brand of team basketball that has become their hallmark.

“We had a great year two years ago but we paid for it last year. But we told them last year, ‘It’s an experience. You’ll get good minutes and we’ll build off it,'” Hoehman said. “We didn’t have the start we wanted but the guys showed resiliency.”

South Brunswick is 9-3 in its last 12 games, and a new player seems to take the lead each night.

Akhil Edekar led the Vikings with 17 points in the team’s first victory of the season, 68-48, over Arthur L. Johnson High School of Clark on Jan. 5.

Kamal Patibandla (14 points) and Christian Mangrum (13) combined for 27 points in South Brunswick’s second victory this winter, 68-59, over East Brunswick on Jan. 8.

Four players, Devin Strickland (17 points), Mangrum (15), Carbone (15) and Murchison (13), scored in double figures during an explosive victory, 74-56, over The Pennington School on Jan. 14.

“We’re bringing more energy,” Mangrum said.

“We don’t like losing,” Murchison added.

South Brunswick is hoping to ride its hot streak into the GMC Tournament and the Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional tournament.

“Our goal is to be the team nobody wants to play,” Hoehman said. “I’m happy with where we’re at.”