CLARK, NJ - The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders clinched the Union County Conference Sky Division for the second consecutive season with a win over the Oratory Prep High School Rams (Summit) by a final score of 53-47 Saturday night in Clark.
Junior George Visconti scored 17 points for his team, but it would not be an easy task for the Crusaders in the closing minutes the Crusaders’ first annual Super Saturday.
With 2:35 left in the game, Visconti picked up his fifth foul of the evening, leaving the Crusaders without their top scorer and holding on to a six-point lead with a furious Rams team looking to complete a comeback.
It was the first time in Visconti’s career that he’s fouled out of a game.
John Lally drained two layups for Oratory Prep, turning a 49-43 deficit into 49-47 with 50 seconds to go. The Crusaders got the ball back and sophomore Brenden Kelly was immediately fouled, sending him to the free throw line with a lot on the line. He drained both free throws to give his team a 51-47 lead.
The Crusaders’ defense suffocated the Rams’ last attempt to get back in the game, before Kelly was fouled again and drained two more free throws to secure the victory for the Crusaders. He finished the evening with eight points.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t happen a lot often, so when it does, it’s a good feeling. George fouled out, but we showed that we could stick together.”
The defensive push from Johnson proved huge, not giving up a shot and taking time off the clock, thus securing the victory and the conference, adding to what has been one of the best seasons in the history of the boys varsity basketball program.
“It was defense-first, that’s what it’s all about,” ALJ senior Ray Williamson said. “We’ve all got to chip in on the defense, that’s what wins us the game.”
The Crusaders sprinted to a quick 6-0 lead before the Rams battled back with seven straight points to take the lead. After a few more shots were made between the two teams, the Rams held a 12-10 lead over the Crusaders following the first quarter. The toe-to-toe matchup continued in the second quarter between the two teams. Visconti added eight points, while sophomore Brandon Hund cashed in on eight points to keep his team battling for the lead.
The Crusaders led the Rams 27-22 at halftime and would come through in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Junior Jeff Drajin would score six points, helping to build a 33-22 Johnson lead before Oratory Prep called a timeout to try to get back on track.
The Johnson Crusaders cashed in on many shot attempts as the final minutes of the third quarter ticked away, with junior Joe DiProfio hitting two baskets in that time, as Johnson led Oratory Prep 42-33 heading into the fourth quarter. On the evening, DiProfio finished with ten points for the Crusaders.
Visconti scored three baskets as the fourth quarter went on, building a 49-41 Johnson lead with 3:15 left in the fourth quarter before he was forced to the bench on the foul. The Rams would cut the lead to two points, giving themselves the opportunity to come away with the game, but couldn’t get the game-tying shot away.
“Especially when George fouled out, there wasn’t a lot of offense on the court, so we had to step it up on defense and down the end of the game,” DiProfio said. “We got a big stop of the game, [Brenden] Kelly knocked down the free throws.”
Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy praised the players on the floor in the final two minutes who got the job done when they were without Visconti on defense.
“We believe in our ability to get stops in order to be relevant,” Kennedy said. “We have to rely on our defense and give credit to the guys who are on the floor for the last two minutes to give us a chance to win a ballgame.”
Hund finished the evening with ten points and provided his thoughts of the last quarter and locking up the conference.
“It was a big win to clinch the conference, second year in a row,” Hund said. “We fought, we let them back in the game and it got a little chippy, but we fought through it and got the win.”
For Oratory, senior Billy Guerriero led his team with 17 points, while Casey McKee scored 11 points in the loss.
Super Saturday saw the Crusaders boys and girls basketball teams play in back-to-back home games. The girls fell to Governor Livingston 56-44.
The Johnson Crusaders (13-1) are back in action when they play Jonathan Dayton High School (Springfield) in a home game on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7:00 p.m. The team’s seniors will be recognized before the game.
The Oratory Prep Rams (6-8) are back in action with a home game against Cranford High School Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7:00 p.m.
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