PATERSON, NJ- In a moving tribute for the team’s senior players Eastside Ghosts’ Head Coach Michael Baker and his staff honored each one before tipoff Wednesday. As the appreciative home crowd watched and visiting Bergen Tech stood by, each graduate-to-be strode to half court and were awarded a beautiful plaque and certificate. Senior team members include: Anthony Dunbar; GodyJeannys; Demonte Johnson; Keymani Nevers; Michael Saldivar-Cruz; Lamir White; and Daron Pauldo.
The contest was marked by alternative surges by both squads as Bergen Tech controlled most of the first two quarters and built a substantial lead. However, the Ghosts came storming back in the second half. The result was a barnburner that went down to the wire with the Knights escaping with a final 55-52 victory.
Tech drew first blood via a 10-foot jumper by senior Howell Nunez. After trading defensive rebounds, Nunez, from the high post, found sophomore point guard Bora Bozdogan for a three-pointer from the right wing. The Knights then solved Eastside’s half-court trap for another score. Tech senior Marc Martinez then launched the first of a trio of his successful three-point shots during the half. After the dust had settled, the Knights enjoyed a 17-6 lead as the first quarter buzzer sounded.
The Ghosts’ woes mounted in the second frame as shots continued to roll tantalizingly off the rim and Nunez shook loose for a nice, right-handed hook. However, Eastside’s Johnson stopped the bleeding by acing a dramatic drive to the basket, being fouled in the act of shooting, and completing a three-point play. Ghosts’ sophomore Levi Holton then turned in a sensational shot rejection but an Eastside pass into the low post went awry. The orange and blue’s defense then picked up the pace by forcing a turnover and a five second call. White caught the Knights’ defense napping by slipping inside for an easy bucket off the glass. A defensive rebound by Dunbar, outlet pass to Holton, and assist to Johnson added two more points.
Eastside’s brief rally was answered by Martinez with a shake and bake dribble which set up a 15-foot jumper. Dunbar concluded the Ghosts’ first half scoring with a sensational drive and bucket, followed by a buzzer beating banker by Tech senior Brian Ibeabuchi. The score at the half read: Bergen Tech 28-Eastside 20.
The third quarter saw the Knights continue to maintain an 8-10 point lead which set the table for the final frame fireworks. However, Johnson made a statement for Eastside with the first score of the frame, a put-back off an offensive rebound. The steady senior followed with a full court, uncontested layup, courtesy of the Ghosts’ pressure defense. The brief run was quelled by a nifty cross-court pass by Tech junior Okpe Ogedegbe to Nunez for a runner in the lane. Nunez and Martinez continued their scoring with a low post banker and a spectacular drive from the left wing, respectively. The pair of seniors also converted on a number of clutch free throws down the stretch.
Eastside’s rebounding then shifted into full gear with relentless pounding of the offensive glass. A three-point play by Dunbar was answered by a basket from the Knights’ junior Franki Garguilo and Martinez, who knocked down another trey. The latter followed by driving wildly into the lane but was fouled while shooting and dropped in both subsequent attempts from the charity stripe. Dunbar then went coast-to-coast and weaved through heavy traffic. Saldivar-Cruz followed by notching a rebound and put-back. However, Nunez replied with a three-pointer from deep in the right corner.
After the Ghosts prevented what would have been a sure Knights’ basket by drawing a charging foul, Bozdogan, on one of his few shot attempts of the evening, was fouled in the act, and converted both free throws.
As the clock wound down, Eastside’s Cozjier Harmon took charge of the Ghosts’ offense and contributed a series of spectacular drives. One, in particular, seemingly defied gravity much to the approval of the raucous Eastside home crowd. An inside score by Salivdar-Cruz cut the Knights’ lead to 44-40 with 6:30 left in the contest. After the Ghosts were tagged with a traveling violation, Johnson grabbed a defensive rebound and travelled coast-to-coast for a layup. The shot skimmed off the iron but Dunbar was there for the rebound and follow-up.
Eastside’s full court press rattled Tech, resulting in Johnson storming in for a score after the Knights failed to get the ball past half court. Another promising Eastside steal due to defensive pressure was nullified after Johnson fell, while dribbling, and his foot touched the baseline. The furious comeback was temporarily slowed by two free throws by Tech senior, Tony Felber. Nunez also garnered a partial block of an Eastside shot attempt from beyond the arc.
Up by one point and frustrated by Eastside’s stifling defense, the Knights were unable to get off a shot attempt. However, Nunez finally scored on a baseline jumper. Following a Ghosts’ timeout, the gymnasium crowd erupted as Holton lofted a three-point shot from beyond the key which tickled the twine. With the score knotted at 53-53 and just under a minute to play, Martinez dropped in one of two free throws. A shot block by Holton was followed by a whistle for travelling on the Knights after Martinez washarassed by Eastside’s guards. As tension mounted and play reached a frantic pitch, the Knights scored on a fast break. With scant seconds left, a desperation three-point attempt by the Ghosts at the buzzer missed by the most minimal of margins. Bergen Tech was able to escape with the final, three-point victory.
Know a story we should share with readers or want to help report local sports scores? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.