WARREN, NJ - Momentum can be a fickle agent in a win-or-go-home game, and once the Bridgewater-Raritan boys basketball team ceded that force to Watchung Hills late in the first half, the Panthers were never able to seize it back.
Fourth-seeded Watchung Hills scored 11 straight points bridging the second and third quarters to take control of a game on its way to defeating the fifth-seeded Panthers, 61-51, in the quarterfinal round of the Somerset County Tournament Tuesday night.
The closest thing that Bridgewater-Raritan had to a sustained run was the seven points in a row the Panthers scored midway through the first quarter. They held a 23-19 lead midway through the second quarter after Alvin Cheng's pull-up jumper, but Watchung Hills (18-6) scored the last eight points of the half to take a 27-23 lead, then opened the third quarter with one of Steven Bressler's five 3-point baskets to open a 30-23 advantage. Bressler finished with a game-high 21 points.
Sterling White and Aaron Gao each finished with 18 points for Bridgewater-Raritan (14-10). Gao also came down with eight rebounds and handed out four assists.
Once the Warriors had the seven-point lead, Bridgewater spent too much of the second half trading baskets with its opponent, unable to string together a series of defensive stops necessary to make a comeback. The Panthers closed to within five, 39-34, at the end of the third quarter when White sank one of two free throws and then scored off a nice backdoor feed from Dan Banz.
And while BRHS did a creditable job holding Watchung Hills' high scorer, Dan Pilsbury, in check with 13 points--with Gao frequently guarding the Warriors' swingman--Pilsbury still did plenty of damage with six assists. He frequently found teammates outside the arc, and Watchung Hills buried seven 3-point baskets on the night. A 16-6 Watchung Hills run gave the home team its biggest lead of the game, 61-46, before BRHS scored the final five points.
Watchung Hills avenged a 59-55 loss to Bridgewater-Raritan on opening night.
Watchung Hills will move on to play top-seeded Gill-St. Bernard's in the semifinal round Thursday night. Bridgewater-Raritan will prepare for its first-round Section 2, Group 4 state tournament game at Piscataway next Tuesday.