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Raritan and Matawan split two-game set in boys basketball

Matawan Regional High School boys basketball player Gio Gallo is double teamed in the corner by two Raritan High School defenders during a game played on Feb. 4 in Aberdeen. Raritan defeated Matawan 65-52.

The Matawan Regional High School and Raritan High School boys basketball teams both enjoyed their second week of action on the hardwood during the 2021 campaign with a two-game series.

During the 2021 season that has been cut short by the ongoing coronavirus pandemice, the Shore Conference is not grouping teams by division. Instead, teams were placed in pods. Matawan and Raritan are in the same pod and squared off in a home-and-home series on Feb. 4-5.

Matawan hosted the first contest in Aberdeen Township, which saw Raritan earn its second win of the season with a 65-52 victory over the Huskies.

“We had a couple of possessions where we hit a few threes in a row, followed by some (defensive) stops and that was huge, especially on the road,” Raritan Coach Denis Caruano said. “I’m really proud of the boys. Every night that you can actually play a game feels like a win, but if you can win that game, it’s a cherry on a sundae.”

The Rockets mounted a second half comeback after Matawan’s Gio Gallo gave the Huskies a 32-25 lead midway through the third quarter with his second three-point field goal of the contest.

Led by junior Justin Rivera, Raritan came back and took a 40-37 lead going into the fourth quarter after Rivera scooped in a layup in the final :30 of the third quarter. Rivera scored the final three points of the third quarter to give Raritan the lead.

Rivera extended the Rockets’ lead to five points with a layup to start the fourth quarter. Sophomores Jack Coleman and Matthew Agar hit back-to-back three-pointers as Raritan opened the quarter with an 8-2 run.

Agar scored on an offensive rebound to extend the lead to 55-45 with 4:18 to play. He finished with 13 points.

Raritan has one senior in the starting lineup – John Bachmann- and the gift of playing a 2021 season during the pandemic is all about getting better each day with an eye toward the future and enjoying time on the court together.

“We have a ton of potential for the next couple of years,” Agar said. “It’s good to be out here and playing with my guys. Most of us have been friends since we were 7 years old and we have developed a lot of chemistry together.”

Rivera put Raritan ahead 61-50 with 2:01 left, finishing hard at the rim with a layup over two Matawan defenders and hitting a free throw to finish the three-point play. He finished with 20 points, including 17 in the second half.


Rivera’s 20-point performance made it three straight games in double figures to start the 2021 season.

“I try to get in the gym every day to get better,” Rivera said. “I try to get my teammates involved and help them get open shots. Hopefully, we can get more wins this year.”

Senior Andre Wells led Matawan with 17 points in the loss.

Wells scored a season-high 24 points in the second meeting between the two teams the next night in Hazlet to help Matawan even its record at 2-2. The Rockets are also 2-2 through four games.

Reverse Layup by Matawan's Andre Wells

Wells is the only returning starter from last year’s squad and Coach John Giraldo has been very impressed with his performance and how well he has handled more responsibilities on the floor.

“We go as he goes,” Giraldo said of Wells. “He was more of a role player for us last year. He has taken on the leadership role and has put the team on his shoulders. He’s been great. He’s come such a long way and I see him just continuing to get better as the season goes on.”

In each of the team’s first two wins, Wells has scored 20 or more points to lead the way for Matawan.

The 54-50 victory over Raritan on Feb. 5 was Matawan’s second road win. Sophomore Colin Haluska scored 10 points to give the Huskies two players in double figures.

Giraldo said his players were excited to get back on the court one night after losing to Raritan and pleased to come away with the victory.

From the beginning of the season, Giraldo and his players have had conversations about how “grateful” they are to be able to have practices and games. He said they are all “appreciative” of every opportunity they have to be on the court this season.

“I want to make this season as enjoyable as I can for the kids,” he said. “The biggest part is concentrating on us. We are focused on developing our guys and making sure they understand what we expect from them and the things we are trying to do to make them better players.”

Matawan and Raritan are both scheduled to open up two-game sets on Feb. 8. The Huskies will play Colts Neck, while the Rockets will face-off against Middletown North.

Raritan High School boys basketball player Justin Rivera looks to get past Matawan's Andre Wells during a game played on Feb. 4 in Aberdeen. Rivera scored a game-high 20 points in the contest.
Matawan Regional High School boys basketball player Luke Elliott looks to pass the ball to a teammate during a game played against Raritan High School on Feb. 4 in Aberdeen.
Raritan High School boys basketball player Lucas LaVilla dribbles the ball up the court during a game played against Matawan Regional High School on Feb. 4 in Aberdeen.
Matawan Regional High School boys basketball player Andre Wells surveys the court during the team's game against Raritan High School on Feb. 4 in Aberdeen. Wells scored a team-high 17 points in the contest.
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