UNION — What started out as a close and tightly-contested back-and-forth dialogue between Union and Elizabeth turned around real quickly Thursday.
Union had its home Louis Rettino Gymnasium rocking after a scintillating start against one of the best teams in the state, but highly-touted Elizabeth took over late in the second half to reject any threat at its undefeated record.
Elizabeth, currently ranked ninth in the state per NJ Advance Media, out-scored Union, 36-18, in the second half and rolled to a 66-44 victory over the Farmers Thursday afternoon. Jordan Price dropped a game-best 24 points to lead the Minutemen, who only led 30-25, at halftime, and trailed by as much as 10 points early on. Jesiah West added 14 points, DJ Watkins chipped in 11, and Al-Fatir Connor contributed nine points on a trio of three-pointers to pace the Minutemen, now 12-0 under revered head coach Phil Colicchio, who came over from Linden this summer.
Russ Ayala scored 14 points to lead Union. Ezra Glover was also in double digits with 10 points, as the Ayala-Glover duo contributed for 14 points during the first half to lead the Farmers’ early surge. Rache Thomas added eight points, and Val Julien and Jakin Edmond each had six.
After an early Union lead disappeared by halftime, the Farmers made a push to come back right after the break. However, they'd only cut their deficit to as much as four points (32-28) before Elizabeth ran away. Connor drained a three for the Minutemen with 55 seconds left in the third quarter, and Elizabeth then went on to out-score Union, 26-10, over the final eight minutes and change.
Before things got out of hand and Elizabeth started separating itself in the second half, Union came out of the gate hot and certainly tested the Minutemen to a level not many other teams have been able to this year. The Farmers scored the first five points of the game, and quickly opened up a 17-7 lead when Glover finished a fast break layup with 1:05 left in the opening quarter.
However, it was only downhill from there for Union. Immediately after Glover's layup, Elizabeth began an 11-0 run that bridged the first and second quarters. Watkins popped a pair of three-pointers during the stretch, and his second three — drained from the left corner — tied it at 17-17 apiece 1:37 into the second frame. Union briefly reclaimed the lead on an Ayala floater to make it 19-17, and it grew to 21-18 before Elizabeth reclaimed the lead for good.
Elizabeth then started an 11-2 run to close out the first half, as it took a 29-23 lead by the over three-minute run of dominance was over. Again, Watkins was pivotal during this run, as his basket with 2:35 left in the half put Elizabeth back ahead, 25-23, and the Minutemen would never trail again.
Though Elizabeth took the lead on that Watkins basket and ran with it, Union didn't let up after halftime and did make a push to get back in the third quarter. Union pulled to within two possessions (40-34) as late 2:28 left in the third frame after Thomas provided arguably the highlight play of the day. The Farmers' junior guard made his defender stumble on a deft crossover, pulled up, and drained the deep two-pointer, sending the sizable crowd into frenzy and seemingly tilting the momentum back on Union's side.
That momentum, though, was taken right back by Elizabeth when Connor popped a deep three-pointer from downtown. And from that point on, the Minutemen out-scored Union, 26-10, to close out the game, even finishing on a 12-0 run to hand Union its largest defeat of the season.