FRENCHTOWN, NJ – The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders boys varsity basketball team played shorthanded against Delaware Valley High School Monday but it didn’t stop them from defeating the Terriers 61-50 .
Seniors Joe DiProfio and Ross Wildes were out with the flu, leaving Junior Eric Bretz to start the game and freshman Tino Puentes to spend time on the court throughout the game.
“We practice everybody really hard,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “Eric did a great job of saying, ‘It’s my turn, let me play,’ and Tino stepped in as well. We had great contributions there, so I’m thrilled about that.”
Although the two didn’t score a lot of points, their efforts did not go unnoticed by their teammates.
“[Eric and Tino] stepped up and they played hard. They really had the determination,” Johnson senior Jeff Drajin said. “They’re practicing with us and they’re on the team and they get an opportunity to show that they can play very well and they did a great job.”
The Crusaders got an early offensive momentum streak, taking a 10-4 lead through the first five minutes of action in the opening quarter, with junior Brandon Hund contributing six points.
Delaware Valley scored two straight shots to tie the game at 10-10, before Johnson junior Brenden Kelly banked home a late shot to give his team a 12-10 lead after the first quarter.
Johnson opened the second quarter with a 7-0 scoring run, with Kelly draining a three-point shot and Visconti scoring four straight points, two of them technical shots after drawing a flagrant foul on a rush to the basket, as Johnson led 19-10 with 6:32 left in the second quarter.
George Visconti connected on free throws and the Crusaders built a 28-17 lead with 3:00 left in the second quarter. They’d receive points from Kelly, Puentes, Visconti and Drajin to give the Crusaders a 33-23 lead over the Terriers going into halftime.
“Tino did an awesome job playing hard,” Drajin said. “Eric was doing great on the boards. They were also scoring, so I couldn’t ask any more out of them.”
“Coach [Kennedy] talked to us before the game and told us we needed to step up in the absence of our other big men that could not play,” Bretz said following the game. “I have been waiting for Coach to call my number for most of the season. When my time came, I felt I played good for my first start.”
Delaware Valley came in the third quarter punching back to cut into the Johnson lead. They cut the lead down to 33-27, before a three-point shot from Kelly made it 36-27. Then, after a few seconds went by, Visconti connected for a shot, recording career points 2,000 and 2,001 with 5:22 left in the third quarter.
Right after that, the Terriers cut the lead down to one, 38-37 with 3:58 left in the third quarter, dealing Johnson their first major dose of adversity on the night.
“Knowing we didn’t have our usual lineup, the regular starters knew we also had to step up our games to another level to come out with a win,” Hund said. “We all stepped up as a team and played a complete game all-around even through some adversity late in the game.”
The Crusaders withstood the Terriers’ comeback bid, getting a late offensive run, with Visconti scoring six points and Hund completing a three-point play to build a 47-41 lead for Johnson after the third quarter.
Johnson pulled away; leading 53-43 with 2:26 left in the fourth quarter and paced themselves the rest of the way, securing another win for the team.
“This win showed a lot today about the character of our guys because we were without a starter in Joe DiProfio and our six-man Ross Wildes,” Visconti said. “It was impressive to see guys like Eric Bretz and Tino Puentes step up, just in case their number needs to be called up down the road in the state tournament.”
Visconti led his team with 26 points on the night, while Hund added 15 points and Kelly tallied 14 of his own in the win for the Crusaders.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Visconti added. “Our starters for picking up some of the slack, but also, the other two guys that stepped in for us.”
The Johnson Crusaders (14-6) are back in action when they head out on the road and play at Rahway HS in the Union County Tournament Second Round Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m.