WESTFIELD, N.J. – The Westfield Blue Devils (13-6) won their home game against the New Providence Pioneers (8-10). Led by head coach Daryl Palmieri, the Blue Devils’ tough defensive pressure led to more offensive possessions and empty shot attempts for their Pioneer opponents throughout the game.
From the start of the first quarter, the fiery defensive pressure of the Blue Devils was apparent when they forced a turnover and exploded into the open paint to score their first two points at the 7:26 mark. The Blue Devils kept their active defensive pace throughout the quarter, with players immediately capitalizing on the first opportunity to steal the basketball. New Providence answered back with their first three points at the 5:23 mark to lead, 3-2.
Despite the renewed energy, the Blue Devil defense prevailed, blocking shots and forcing empty possessions and forcing a slow quarter for the Pioneers. The score was 11-5 after one quarter, with both sides missing many open attempts, but Westfield garnering more attempts out of forced turnovers and scoring more points as a result.
The pace continued in the second quarter as New Providence failed to convert their offensive possessions due to tight defensive pressure. The heat in the Blue Devil gym was rising as New Providence scrambled to score points.
“Patience!” ordered New Providence Head Coach Art Cattano.
The words reverberated and made room for two points, with New Providence junior Jordan Morang slicing into the paint for an "and-one" opportunity. Then, capitalizing on the bullish Westfield offensive game, New Providence sophomore Kevin Haggerty took a charge to rally the Pioneers to score 11 points.
Riding the momentum, Cattano called for a press defense that balanced the previous Pioneer turnovers with a number of steals from the Blue Devils. However, empty shot attempts continuously plagued the Pioneers. After a series of defensive rebounds, Westfield’s Keegan Hess answered back with a slew of 3-pointers to emphasize his team’s presence and to finish with the Blue Devils leading the first half by 10 points, 26-16.
The third quarter marked a renewed Westfield offensive game, with the Blue Devils scoring nine points by the 5:00 minute mark. Turnovers continued to hurt New Providence, which Westfield converted to more and more points.
Working around the tight Westfield defense and executing for some points was New Providence sophomore Tyler Curto, who forced fouls and scored a quick four points off the bench. However, the third quarter was clearly in Westfield’s favor. When the buzzer sounded, the initial halftime Pioneer deficit of 10 points was opened up to 22. The Blue Devils scored 21 in this quarter alone, with Westfield’s Scott Toresco leading the run, scoring nine points in the quarter.
“New Providence is a good shooting team, we can’t give them open looks,” Palmieri said.
Westfield continued to pressure New Providence's shooters and cause missed shot attempts. However, the Pioneers answered back and dedicated their efforts in a final breath of aggressive defense, holding Westfield scoreless for the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. The hard-fought quarter led to players clashing heads and bodies and the paint. Two Westfield players had to be taken out for injury check-ups in the quarter alone.
Facing the uphill battle, New Providence stayed dedicated to limit Westfield to 10 points, and even out that with 10 points of their own. However, it was too late to harbor a game-changing effort when the final buzzer sounded, and the score favored Westfield.
Hess led the Blue Devils' attack with 15 points.
“It was one of our poor performances for the year," Cattano said, shaking his head. “We did not take smart shots, and missed a lot of open opportunities.”
When asked how the Pioneer team could have improved offensively around Westfield’s tight defense, New Providence’s Jordan Morang said: “As a team, we need to always make crisp passes to give the open man a chance to score. We need to dive for more loose balls in order to win games like this today.”
Morang finished the game with seven points and four rebounds.
New Providence is visiting Dayton at 7 p.m. on Thursday for another chance to move closer to an even record.