Taking It to the Rack–January 13, 2017

Great Night of Hoops on Showdown Thursday in GMC

It was a great night of hoops in Middlesex County not only on the GMC boys side, but also on the GMC girls side as well. In addition to the to thrilling games between the two top teams in the GMC Red and White Divisions in boys basketball, there was a game decided in overtime in the GMC Red in girls hoops as well.

Edison and South Brunswick fought tooth and nail down the stretch of regulation with the Lady Eagles and Lady Vikings eventually going to overtime tied at 55-55. South Brunswick would outscore Edison by a 5-4 margin in the extra period to get the win. In another girls game, Piscataway defeated East Brunswick, 60-50.

There were quite a few close games in Greater Middlesex Conference boys basketball on Thursday night. Of the seven games that were played, only one, Sayreville’s 68-57 victory over Woodbridge, was decided by double digits, and that contest was close until the end.

Of the six games decided by single digits, five were decided by five points or less. One of those five games, No. 10 East Brunswick and No. 5 Piscataway was another wild one with the Chiefs leading the Bears by 19 in the third quarter before EB rallied to tie the game at 54-54 with 3:50 remaining. P-Way managed to get the win, 67-62.

Seventh ranked Old Bridge had some struggles with winless Monroe before coming away with a hard fought, 47-43 victory. Despite 28 points from senior forward, Kyle Parris, the Knights needed a 16-8 showing in the second to get past the pesky Falcons, which have lost 7 of its 9 games by 8 points or less.

J.P. Stevens, which survived a wild fourth quarter against arch rival Edison on Tuesday night, gave 8th ranked Perth Amboy all it could handle before bowing out 44-41. Fres Cabrera collected 22 points to lead the Panthers to the win. Rishav Ghosh (15 points) and Tyrese Conover (12 points) scored in double figures to lead the Hawks in a losing cause.

The White Division wasn’t immune from close games on Thursday night either. North Brunswick, a team that knocked off pre-season number one Sayreville in double overtime on opening night, and upended 10th ranked East Brunswick over the holidays in the Brunswick Classic, got a battle from a Colonia team still learning about itself before winning its fifth straight, 55-52.

Jordan Salisbury and Maneet Batra led North Brunswick with 15 points each while Adryan Salazar chipped in with 10. Luke Valeriano led Colonia in defeat with a game high 20 points while junior point guard, Frank Lehman chipped in with 11. The Patriots have had some ups and downs early on, but if they can play like last night from here on out, they will be a tough out come February and March.

Finally, J.F. Kennedy won its second game at home this season by defeating Edison 46-38. Both of these teams have had some hard luck but one of Kennedy’s wins was against North Brunswick, which has been hot since then. Edison might be 2-9 on the season, but it is much tougher than its record indicates with five losses decided by 8 points or less.

Why all the fuss about these games on Thursday night? Simple. Since it points out the parity that exists in Greater Middlesex Conference boys basketball this season. True there are teams right now such as St. Joseph’s, South Brunswick, Sayreville, Woodbridge, Carteret, Perth Amboy Tech, and Timothy Christian that have stood above the rest in their divisions, but it hasn’t been by much.

St. Joseph’s has exceeded my expectations thus far this season, and by a lot. Coming into the season, I didn’t know whether to even rank the Falcons in the Pre-Season Top Ten at all due to all the changes in the off-season. However, this group showed a lot of guts coming back off the floor following South Brunswick’s epic 28-7 surge over the first 12:18 of the second half.

You have to consider the fact that this is a Falcons team with only one starter from last year, and Letrell West didn’t start every game for the Falcons. Malachi Walker and Mike Granda got time off the bench, but not a lot. Most importantly though, St. Joe’s has two freshmen in its starting five, and four on its varsity roster along with two sophomores. Bottom line is that the Falcons showed a great deal of poise.

South Brunswick showed me something too even though it lost. Flashback to opening night two seasons ago when these two teams played at SBHS. The game was close and a little bit back and forth early on, but then Joes pulled away to end the first half, and Bree Tyree opened the second half with that memorable dunk to give the Falcons the momentum to win going away.

The Vikings didn’t let that happen this time. I was fearful that this game might end up being like St. Joseph’s two wins earlier this season at Piscataway (70-48) and at home over Perth Amboy last week (83-36). Keep in mind that the Falcons did a great job in limiting South Brunswick’s top scorer, Mike Ugarte to just five points. Nevertheless, the Vikes, led by Chris James, Anthony Blakey, Tavian Alford, Vic Huetz, and Kunal Thakral led the charge in a comeback for the ages.

Sayreville might be finally getting its act together. With the success of the football team this past season, it may have taken a little extra time for the likes of Jahsim Floyd, Jayson DeMild, and Elijah Clark to get going. The Bombers turned in a superb performance in defeating previously unbeaten and top ranked Woodbridge in a GMC White Showdown (68-57).

Ryan O’Leary led the charge with 17 points while Xavier Townes chipped in with 13, but DeMild had 10 and Floyd had several memorable dunks and blocked shots despite only scoring six points after battling foul trouble and a first half with no points or rebounds according to the play-by-play of the GMC Hoops Game of the Week broadcast. Keshaun Henry turned in a stellar performance for the Barrons with a game high 32 points including 23 in the first half.

Although it was the only game decided by double digits on Thursday, Sayreville only led by five or so at the half, and by eight in the third quarter. This game was just as close as the rest on Thursday night. Most importantly though, Sayreville re-established itself as a player again in the GMC by knocking off a team that defeated it twice a year ago including a match-up in the 2016 GMCT Quarterfinals.

If you take a look at the latest standings, you will see that each of the divisions are shaping up pretty much like I thought they would although there are some differences. For instance, in the GMC Red, St. Joseph’s is in first, but my top three are there with Joes, SB, and OBHS just in different order. Perth Amboy and Monroe are the only monkey wrenches there.

The Panthers had some unknowns coming into the season due to a couple players being academically ineligible, and losing several key players from last year including Johnny Jones, Jesus Garcia, Victor Soto, Luis Rivera, Ethon Diaz, and Jose Genao. Plus Amboy was only 8-15 a year ago after making the GMCT Semis in 2014-15. As long as Fres Cabrera can stay on the court, the Panthers will be tough to beat.

The White is pretty much going exactly to form with Woodbridge only slightly ahead of Sayreville being the only real difference at this point. North Brunswick is third while Colonia is in the middle of the pack. Kennedy is essentially tied with Edison and New Brunswick toward the bottom of the standings with the Mustangs losing to New Brunswick and beating Edison while the Eagles knocked off New Brunswick.

The Blue Division is where the wheels came off for me. Bishop Ahr got off to a 1-5 start including losses to Spotswood and Carteret early on, but has since won 4 of its last 5 including victories over Metuchen (66-52), East Brunswick (38-35), and Middlesex (55-42). The wins over Metuchen and EB were really impressive since BGA was without a couple key players in both games.

While everyone in the Blue had been beating up on each other, Carteret has been above the fray, and managed to remain undefeated while posting a 9-2 overall mark. Middlesex has surprised. Despite losing to Bishop Ahr on Wednesday, the Blue Jays are 5-3 with wins over Metuchen, South River, and Spotswood. The Jays also lost in overtime on opening night to South Plainfield.

Metuchen surprised over the first couple weeks of the season with 5 wins in its first 6 games, but has since fallen off with four straight losses. Two of them were to Amboy Tech (63-58) and South Plainfield (56-53) on the road. Spotswood has struggled so far this season, but a win over South Amboy on Monday night will hopefully turn things around. South River has also struggled, but gave Carteret all it could handle on Wednesday at home before losing (58-51).

The Gold Division has pretty much gone the way I thought it would with one exception: South Amboy. During the summer, I had spoken with their head coach, John Zammit, who was just trying to get the kids into the gym to practice at that point. As a result, the Guvs really didn’t play in any summer leagues other than the Raritan Bay Summer League in town.

The Governors also struggled during the fall at the Monroe Sports Center Fall League. However, the Guvs have surprised early on this season with a 4-6 mark overall including a 3-3 record for third place in the division entering play on Friday. South Amboy has had three of its losses decided by a total of 17 points. Kyle Gasiewski has really impressed so far for the Guvs.

Perth Amboy Tech and Timothy Christian have been the class of the division so far with the Patriots of Amboy Tech leading the Tigers of TCS by one game as a result of winning their head to head match-up (61-53) on December 19th in Perth Amboy. These two teams will battle it out again in another divisional showdown on January 18th at TCS.

One other team that has surprised up to this point in the GMC Gold has been Dunellen. The Destroyers are only 3-5, but have almost as many as as they did lall of last year, defeated Piscataway Tech and Wardlaw as well as battle Amboy Tech to the wire on Wednesday night. A player to watch for DHS is freshman, Tyje’ Kelton although he has a good group around him to with R.J. Mitchell, Oscar Caballero, Angel Suarez, and Nazir Martin.