BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - In their second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Classic game, the Governor Livingston Highlanders men’s basketball team defeated Dayton on Tuesday night, 49-41.
This special game - one that is dedicated to the fight against cancer -- raised $2,338 for the American Cancer Society along with Cancer Stinks and the Isadora Seibert Foundation. It was important for Coach Joe Reel to bring Coaches vs. Cancer to GL to honor Spencer Jacovini, Nicholas Tarabokia and Ryan Diskin and everyone in the school district who has been touched by cancer in some way.
The Highlanders have won four in a row and six of their last seven contests. Rob Imbalzano’s 12 points led Governor Livingston while Chris Long enjoyed one of his better games of the season in scoring in with 10 points. Imbalzano and Long were part of a balanced scoring effort in which the team’s starters combined to score 46 of Governor Livingston’s 49 points.
“It’s always a grinder for us when we face teams that play zone defense,” head coach Steve Petruzzelli said. “We weren’t ourselves on defense. And on offense, there were several occasions, where we were a little late with our execution. We weren’t seeing openings to score quick enough.”
Petruzzelli’s comments about his team’s defense is yet another testament to the high standards he holds them to. When viewing Governor Livingston’s defensive statistics for the past few weeks, many would be quite impressed. The Highlanders held their eighth consecutive opponent to under 50 points while their last three opponents failed to score 45.
The Highlanders once again made things miserable for one of the county’s top scorers. Dayton’s Amir Mayfield came into the contest averaging over 20 points. Instead of sending double and triple teams at Mayfield, Petruzzelli had two of his better defenders, Javon Reis-Wilson and Chris Marzo, check Mayfield one-and-one. It was a bold but effective move. Reis-Wilson was the peskiest for Mayfield to deal with as the scrappy guard’s quickness helped cut off Mayfield’s driving lanes into the paint.
“We wanted to put our quickest guys on Mayfield,” Petruzzelli said. “When he scores over 20, they win and tonight he didn’t. He was never able to get into a rhythm mainly because our guys did a good job forcing him into tough shots.”
Mayfield’s tough night was just one of many for players on both teams. The two squads battled sloppy play throughout the night as both committed their fair share of careless turnovers. The turnovers combined with the Highlanders’ inability to get out in transition prevented the team from scoring more points.
Petruzzelli feels there were plenty of opportunities for his team to get out in transition and was disappointed by their inability to do so. “Our big guys have to start running a little more when we have those fastbreak opportunities,” Petruzzelli said. “We have to be better in that area.”
What the Governor Livingston big men lacked in the transition aspect, they made up for it in a key 17-8 run that spanned the first and second quarters. The run gave the Highlanders a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Governor Livingston forwards (Imbalzano, Long, John Iorio, and Jimmy Longo) combined to score 12 of the team’s 17 points during the run. Imbalzano scored seven by himself, including a key 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer. Imbalzano’s three-pointer ended a 4-0 Dayton run and gave his team am eight-point lead at the half.
“Rob made some good plays tonight and he’s getting better playing against the zone,” Petruzzelli said. “He was able to get to the rim a little more than usual and didn’t settle for anything.”
The Highlanders were able to stretch their lead to 11 at the beginning of the fourth quarter but naturally, got too comfortable and became laxed on both ends of the floor. Dayton took advantage of Governor Livingston’s miscues and went on an 11-5 run to cut the deficit to four late in the game. Possessing the ball and down 45-41, Dayton appeared destined to cut deeper into the deficit before Reis-Wilson’s steal ended those hopes.
Reis-Wilson appeared headed for an easy fastbreak lay-up before he was fouled intentionally. He converted both free throws to push the lead to six before Marzo made a pair of free throws of his own to put the finishing touches on the win.