CLARK, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School boys basketball team came off two straight road wins against New Providence (75-56) and Roselle Park (83-54) and returned home to host Gov. Livingston Thursday night. In an intense, back-and-forth matchup, the Crusaders held off the Highlanders by a final score of 67-60.
The Crusaders and Highlanders played a close first quarter, which ended with Governor Livingston senior Kevin Keegan draining a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Highlanders a 17-14 lead after the first eight minutes of play.
The Highlanders sprinted out to a ten-point lead with 3:16 left in the first half, going up 30-20, but the Crusaders went on a 13-2 run to take a 33-32 lead with 1:05 left in the second quarter.
With the game tied at 35, junior George Visconti was fouled just before the first half expired and he drained two free throws to give the Crusaders a 37-35 lead at halftime.
Visconti, who finished the night with 20 points for the Crusaders had this to say of the gutsy effort from his team.
“I don’t think we had the best day, but we rallied together,” Visconti said. “Ultimately, we played hard and played for each other and when you do that, it results in good things, which was a win for us tonight. We’re just fortunate for that because it wasn’t our best basketball, but it was good for tonight.”
The second half would be a close game for both teams. The teams battled throughout the entire third quarter.
Sophomore Brandon Hund would get in the action, draining key three-point baskets in the third quarter.
As the final quarter got underway, the Crusaders burst through with Hund and Visconti leading the way. Junior Joe DiProfio also proved to be a key factor for the team in the fourth quarter.
Johnson got a basket and a three-pointer from Hund to build a 50-45 lead with 5:23 left. Following a Highlanders basket from Keegan, Visconti drained a three-point basket to make the lead 53-47. DiProfio connected on a basket to make it 55-49 with 4:49 left. Following two free throws from Governor Livingston senior Billy Peneck, which made it 55-51, Johnson blew the game open in a two-minute time span.
Visconti and DiProfio drained back-to-back three pointers to advance the lead to 10 with 3:52 left. Following another basket from Keegan, Visconti gave his team a 63-53 lead with 2:58 left, but the Highlanders would not go down without a fight.
Keegan and Pencek drilled back-to-back shots and sophomore Ryan Davey drained a three-pointer to cut it down to 63-60 with 1:24 left. The Highlanders immediately called a timeout with the hopes of completing a comeback, but came up empty on the next possession.
The Crusaders eluded the Highlanders’ attempts to intentionally foul, as junior Jeff Drajin and Visconti drilled back-to-back layups to help secure the win for Johnson.
“Governor Livingston is always a good game, we had to fight back a lot and we found a way to win,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “In the process of learning and growing as a team, you’re going to have very tough matchups and GL gave us everything they had. It was a great game for both teams.”
“It was a big out-of-conference game,” DiProfio said. “We want to move up next season and win all our conference games and take all our out-of-conference games. It’s a big key towards moving up next season.”
Hund, who finished the night with 18 points, attributed the Crusaders' victory to good defense,rebounding, and maintaining possession of the ball.
For the Highlanders, Keegan finished with 19 points in the loss, while Davey added 12 points on the night. Pencek finished with 10 points.
“I think we need to take [from this game] how hard we played this game," said Gov. Livingston head coach Chris Loeffler. "We did it last game against Rahway. These kids played with 100 percent effort, but what we’ve got to take out of it, is that we have to take better care of the basketball.
“When you turn it over too many times, that is a three-point game and at that point, we had to have [about] 15+ turnovers, so competitively, that’s the only way we stay in it,” he added.
The Johnson Crusaders (3-0) are back in action when they play Holmdel in Rahway on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 6 p.m. in the first round of the Christmas tournament.
The Governor Livingston Highlanders (0-3) play Morris Knolls Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 2 p.m. in the first round of their Christmas tournament.