CLARK, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders boys varsity basketball team found themselves in a low-scoring, defensive battle in the first half of a game against the Oratory Prep High School Rams (Summit) before breaking away to win 51-39.

The Crusaders’ defense, was key to their success as the Rams struggled to move the ball and find shots within the inside area of the basket.  Instead the Crusaders forced them to do extra passing and looking, leading to turnovers and opportunity for Johnson.

“We started pressuring full-court and as we started adding more pressure on defense, we got some quick turnovers, which led to easy scores for us. Whenever you can get points off your defense, it helps out your offense,” Johnson senior George Visconti said..

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Johnson led Oratory Prep by a score of 11-6 after the first quarter and didn’t allow their first basket of the game until the final two minutes of the quarter. Senior Ross Wildes scored his four points on back-to-back shots to keep his team in front.

During the second quarter, the Crusaders and Rams traded shots back-and-forth. The Rams got within 14-13 with 5:28 left in the second quarter, but the Crusaders slowed the Rams on defense, allowing chances to score.

“Our defense really helped us in the first half,” junior Brandon Hund said. “We weren’t shooting really that well at all. We were making shots, but weren’t shooting well as compared to other games. Us [starters] playing five people as one on defense always helps because the chemistry is always there.”

Hund and Visconti led the offensive charge for the Crusaders, with Hund adding eight points in the quarter, while Visconti tallied five.

Hund beat the buzzer with a three-point shot to send Johnson into halftime with a 24-18 lead over Oratory Prep. He finished the night with 18 points, while Visconti dished in 20 points for the Crusaders in the win.

Johnson led Oratory Prep 32-30 heading into the fourth quarter.  It was in the final quarter the Crusaders pulled away, as they outscored the Rams 19-9 in the final eight minutes.

 “We just had to stick together,” Johnson senior Jeff Drajin said. “This wasn’t just a regular season game, this was a conference game. We made a collective decision to come together and win this game.”

The Crusaders went on a 10-0 scoring run over a span of a minute and a half, powered by junior Brandon Hund and Visconti.

Visconti buried two free throws and Hund subsequently connected for a shot and was fouled, completing the three-point play with a free throw of his own, making the game 42-33 with Johnson out front.

The Crusaders forced the Rams into making shots, resulting in misses and more scoring chances.

“We got fantastic ball pressure, which makes them start their offense a little farther out, especially when we’re denying the wing as hard as we did,” Visconti said.

Hund connected for another shot and Visconti scored at the free throw line, with junior Brenden Kelly adding one of his own, the lead becoming 47-33 Crusaders with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter.

“We needed to separate one possession at a time,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “We basically defended and made the bulk of our free throws. Anytime you keep a quality team under ten [points] in a quarter, you’ve done a really good job.”

The Johnson Crusaders (5-2) are back in action when they play Union HS, one of the games a part of the Eric LeGrand Classic on Sunday, January 14 at 2:30 p.m. at Kean University.

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