BRIDGEWATER, NJ – A big loss at Hunterdon Central 19 days ago, when the Red Devils led by as many as 25 points on the way to a 77-58 win over Bridgewater-Raritan, seemed to be distant memory for the Panthers in their Feb. 4 rematch.

But while Bridgewater-Raritan gave it all they had and kept it close the entire game, it was Hunterdon Central that ultimately came up big at the most critical of moments.

The Panthers (4-15) led by as many as six points late in the first half before a burst of 11 unanswered points by the visitors in the final minutes of the second quarter gave Hunterdon Central the lead for good. Despite Bridgewater-Raritan holding the Red Devils to a pair of field goals in the final frame and getting 16 points from Rishi Mudduluru to lead all scorers, 24 points from behind the arc and late-game free throw shooting ultimately propelled Hunterdon Central to a 64-58 win at Bridgewater-Raritan.

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Brian Johansson opened up the scoring for Hunterdon Central on Tuesday night before Alec Whelan got the Panthers on the board a minute later. Mudduluru then hit his first of four shots from long range for Bridgewater-Raritan with 6:10 to go in the first quarter, but had a potential three-point play waved off after an offensive foul wiped a potential layup and one off the board. Instead, Hunterdon Central’s Eric Molto answered from downtown to begin a burst of seven straight points for the Red Devils guard, leading to a 9-7 lead by the visitors and a Bridgewater-Raritan timeout with 4:37 left in the first quarter.

While they were therefore on the wrong end of a six-point swing, the Panthers quickly shook it off and continued to battle.

Whelan then drew a foul and split a pair of free throws immediately afterwards to make it a one-point game. Mudduluru then secured a key strip and steal in the paint on the Red Devils’ next possession, leading to a pair of free throws by Whelan that put the Panthers up 10-9 with 4:01 left in the opening period.

Both teams ended up trading bursts of multiple baskets to close out the quarter, with Joseph Sei and Hunterdon Central scoring the game’s next five points in under a minute. Down 14-10, Bridgewater-Raritan then scored six unanswered points on its next three possessions on a layup by Sam Cohen, a split pair of free throws by Alvin Cheng, and the first of three long-range connections by Joey Callari, who finished with 13 points for the Panthers.

With Bridgewater-Raritan up 16-14 with 1:34 left in the opening quarter, Conner Hercek hit nothing but net on a three-pointer in transition for Hunterdon Central, and a jumper by Molto capped off a nine-point opening frame for the Red Devils guard to give his team a 19-16 lead at the first-period buzzer.

The Panthers came out swinging in the second quarter and opened up with a triple by Gio Nazareno to tie the game at 19-19. This began a 12-3 scoring run for Bridgewater-Raritan, with the Red Devils’ only field goal in just over a three-minute span coming from the first of three triples from Tyler Cassella with 6:45 left in the period. Down 22-19, nine unanswered points by Bridgewater-Raritan capped off the aforementioned scoring run, giving the Panthers a 28-22 lead with 4:40 left in the first half.

But in a game of bursts and runs, it was Hunterdon Central’s turn right after that.

Matt Ciszkowski, who had 16 points in the previous meeting, scored his first bucket with 3:30 left in the second quarter to break Hunterdon Central’s scoring drought. This began a stretch of 11 unanswered points by the visitors, with a split pair of free throws by Sei and a three-pointer by Mike Zaragoza tying the game at 28-28 exactly 45 seconds later. Ciszkowski’s next bucket in the post put the Red Devils up by two and up for good before Zaragoza’s second triple in as many attempts extended Hunterdon Central’s lead to 33-28 with 1:35 left in the half.

Whelan then scored the final bucket of the half to cut the Red Devils’ lead to 33-30, keeping Bridgewater-Raritan within one possession at the break. A layup and one by Sei to open the third quarter doubled the Red Devils’ lead with 7:22 left in the period to close out a 14-2 Hunterdon Central scoring run.

While Callari scored on a long two and his third shot from downtown on back-to-back Panthers possessions, timely buckets by Sei and Charlie Gillikin in between gave Hunterdon Central a 40-35 advantage with 5:35 left in the third quarter. A split pair of free throws and a layup by Cheng then got Bridgewater-Raritan to within two before another layup by Gillikin made it 42-38 Red Devils just over thirty seconds later. Both teams came up empty on their next possessions before a split pair of free throws by Whelan again cut it to a three-point game halfway into the quarter.

With Bridgewater-Raritan down 42-39 at this point, seven unanswered points by Hunterdon Central in the next two and a half minutes gave the Red Devils their largest lead of the night: a 49-39 advantage with 1:35 left in the quarter. But a layup by Cheng and a buzzer-beating shot from behind the arc by Mudduluru cut the Red Devils’ lead in half to 49-44 heading into the final frame.

Whelan split another pair of free throws to open the fourth quarter to end another small burst of six unanswered points by the Panthers. Hunterdon Central led only 49-45 with 7:06 to go as a result, but took advantage of their opportunities at the free throw line from there. After missing a pair of free throws on the Red Devils’ previous possession, Ciszkowski made two of what ended up being ten final-period free throws by the visitors, who shot 10-for-16 at the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.

A fadeaway jumper by Mudduluru opened up the scoring in the final period for the Panthers senior forward with 6:10 to play. But Cassella’s third and final three-pointer just under a minute later extended Hunterdon Central’s lead to 54-47. This was the last of eight made shots from behind the arc for the Red Devils, but the first of only two field goals in the final frame for the visitors.

The other came on a timely layup by Ciszkowski to give Hunterdon Central a 56-47 lead with 2:45 to play. A coast-to-coast layup by Bridgewater-Raritan’s Zach Letts followed by a corner triple by Mudduluru made it a 57-52 game in favor of the visitors with 2:07 to go.

While the remainder of what ended up being seven more points for Hunterdon Central all came at the charity stripe the rest of the way, time simply just ran out despite a great effort by Bridgewater-Raritan. A banked three by Mudduluru got the Panthers to within six points with 37.7 seconds to go, but a few key stops by the Red Devils in the final minute sealed an eventual 64-58 victory for Hunterdon Central, who swept their regular-season series with the Panthers.

The Red Devils attempted two free throws in the first half and 19 in the second half on the way to a 14-for-21 night at the line. Bridgewater-Raritan, however, only went 9-for-18 at the free-throw line.

The Panthers, however, only attempted three free throws in the final frame compared to Hunterdon Central’s 16 fourth-quarter attempts at the charity stripe.

SCORING:
Hunterdon Central 64, Bridgewater-Raritan 58
Hunterdon Central: Q1- 19; Q2- 14; Q3- 16; Q4- 15; TOTAL- 64

  • Matt Ciszkowski - 11 points
  • Eric Molto - 11 points
  • Joseph Sei - 11 points
  • Tyler Cassella - 9 points
  • Brian Johansson - 9 points
  • Mike Zaragoza - 6 points
  • Charlie Gillikin - 4 points
  • Conner Hercek - 3 points

Bridgewater-Raritan: Q1- 16; Q2- 14; Q3- 14; Q4- 14; TOTAL- 58

  • Rishi Mudduluru- 16 points
  • Joey Callari- 13 points
  • Alec Whelan- 9 points
  • Alvin Cheng- 6 points
  • Zach Letts- 5 points
  • Gio Nazareno- 5 points
  • Sam Cohen- 2 points
  • Mickey Wasko- 2 points

REMAINING REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:
Bridgewater-Raritan (4-15) will take on another team named the Red Devils on Thursday evening, when they travel to Ridge in what will be the first meeting between the rivals in 2019-20. Five games, including their contest at Ridge, remain as follows in the regular season:
Feb. 6 - at Ridge (7 p.m.)
Feb. 8 - East Brunswick (1 p.m.)
Feb. 11 - Immaculata (7 p.m.)
Feb. 20 - Bayonne (5 p.m.)
Feb. 27 - at Bound Brook (6 p.m.)

For detailed Bridgewater-Raritan Panthers Athletics schedules and game locations, please see https://bridgewaterraritanhighschool.bigteams.com/.

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