Magical season features a berth in GMC final for South Brunswick boys’ basketball

South Brunswick High School boys' basketball player Akhil Edekar grabs the loose ball during the team's game against Saint Joseph Metuchen High School in the semifinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament on Feb. 26. South Brunswick defeated Saint Joseph Metuchen in double overtime, 88-77.

The South Brunswick High School boys’ basketball team knew what it was capable of doing big things during the 2019-2020 season.

Even though the Vikings were a combined 13-31 over the past two years, there was no doubt in everyone’s minds on the South Brunswick team that can be one of the top teams in the Greater Middlesex Conference.

South Brunswick has proven all season that they are without a doubt one of the top teams in the conference, and proved it even more in its showdown with the No. 1 seed, Saint Joseph Regional High School in the GMC semifinals on Feb. 26 at New Brunswick High School.

The fourth-seeded Vikings knocked off Saint Joseph an overtime thriller, outscoring the team from Metuchen, 15-4, in double overtime for an 88-77 victory to advance to the conference finals for the first time in four year.

“We knew in our hearts that this year we could make it back into the top of the county,” siad South Brunswick coach Joe Hoehman. “When we are playing fast, that’s when we are at our best. Everyone contributed in one way or another. This is definitely a special win for us.”

Stepping up big on the grand stage was senior Justin Carbone for the Vikings. Carbone was a monster all over the court, scoring a game-high 27 points in the victory.

The senior knocked home the biggest basket of the night with the Vikings down 69-67 with 19.1 seconds to play.

Seeing his team give up what was once an 11-point lead late in the third quarter, Carbone rose up to the moment to force overtime by knocking down a mid-range jumper with nine seconds left to play in regulation.

“I just stayed focused when I made that shot,” Carbone said. “I knew I couldn’t get too high or too low, that I needed to keep the team focused. I couldn’t do this without my teammates. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

Carbone is averaging 19.6 points a game this season.

South Brunswick had a chance to win the contest in the first overtime period, with sophomore Yathmin Vermula stepping up to the line for two shots with 0.1 seconds left.

Vermula led the way to South Brunswick taking a 34-30 lead into the half, scoring 17 of his 22 points in the first half. The sophomore hit three shots from behind the arch in the first quarter.

The sophomore unfortunately, couldn’t seal up the victory for South Brunswick by missing both free-throw attempts, extending the game into a second overtime period.

Vermula’s teammates had his back in the second overtime period.

South Brunswick got off to a rocking start, rolling to an 8-2 surge to begin the second overtime period.

That run opened up the floodgates for South Brunswick as the Vikings continued to play fast and roar into the final with their second victory of the season against Saint Joseph.

Senior Devin Strickland played his best in overtime for the Vikings. Strickland knocked home eight of his 16 points in overtime and had two steals to begin the first overtime period.

“Coach (Hoehman) always told me that big time players make big time plays,” Strickland said. “That was my mindset going into overtime. My team needed me to be a leader and I stepped up for them.”

Strickland is averaging a team-high 20.5 points a game this season.

Senior Akhil Edekar gave South Brunswick four players in double figures with 12 points in the victory.

Junior Ty Murchison had a great all-around performance in the victory for South Brunswick, scoring nine points with a team-high 10 rebounds and five steals.

The Vikings are currently 21-4 on the season and are 14-1 in their last 15 games.

South Brunswick will square off against No. 2 seed Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in the GMC final, which will be played on Feb. 28 at Middlesex County Community College on Edison.

A victory over Saint Thomas Aquinas in the final would be South Brunswick’s first conference championship in program history.

The Vikings are the No. 4 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 Tournament. First round  begins on March 3, with South Brunswick home to the No. 13 seed, Jackson Memorial High School.

Enjoying the ride that this magical season has brought to the program, Hoehman couldn’t be happier to see his team continue to strive for bigger things as the season has gone on.

“This season means a lot to our program,” Hoehman said. “The guys are having fun. We’re very excited to play in the finals.”

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports