CLARK, NJ- The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders boys varsity basketball team went toe-to-toe with the New Providence Pioneers in a back-and-forth battle at home, and the teams needed overtime to decide the winner in this contest.
New Providence, who trailed 58-50 with 1:19 left, outscored Johnson 14-6 in the final minute. It was the game-tying layup by Pioneers senior Jason DiBenedetto with three seconds left on the clock, that forced overtime.
The Pioneers took the win, with a final score of 76-72 in overtime.
On the night, DiBenedetto added 15 points in the victory for New Providence.
“We know that Johnson is one of the best in the conference,” DiBenedetto said. “This puts us back in the conference, our first loss to Oratory Prep was rough, because we were winning until the last 30 seconds, and then we lost. This game was huge, it was a great game by Johnson. We played as a team, and we went out on top, it’s a great feeling.”
The Pioneers and Crusaders kept it a close first quarter, with each team connecting on layups and scoring opportunities, and New Providence led 18-16 after the first eight minutes of the game.
The Crusaders took over in the second quarter, outscoring the Pioneers 20-13 in that part of the game, taking a 36-31 lead into halftime.
The second half would lead up to the closeness of the score between the two teams.
New Providence would outscore Johnson 11-9 in the third quarter, cutting the Johnson lead to 45-42 going into the fourth quarter.
The Crusaders led 58-50 with 1:19 left in regulation, but New Providence senior co-captain Kevin Vass had a huge game with 3-pointers, draining seven of them, with three of them helping to complete the late rally for New Providence.
In the overtime session, the Pioneers jumped out to a 69-64 lead with a 3-pointer from sophomore Jack Barletta and two free throws from Vass.
Johnson senior Mitch Becker connected on a 3-pointer to cut the Pioneers lead to 69-67. Vass would give his team a 71-67 lead with two more free throws before Johnson sophomore George Visconti drained a 3-pointer to make it 71-70 with 46 seconds left.
After two more Pioneers free throws and a basket from Visconti, New Providence led 73-72 with 21 seconds left.
Visconti missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with six seconds left, and Pioneers sophomore Patrick Trezza hit one of two free throws to secure the 76-72 overtime win for New Providence.
Vass finished with 29 points on the night, and said he felt that this game was a confidence booster for his team.
“It basically turns our season around,” Vass said. “We are relatively an inexperienced team, but this was a huge win for us. We were taught how to win close games, and hopefully it can create a domino effect for the rest of the season.”
Sophomore Jack Barletta also contributed 15 points in the win for the Pioneers.
New Providence head coach Art Cattano felt that his team battled, and kept everything together in the come-from-behind victory.
“We had been struggling early,” Cattano said. “Going into the holiday tournament, we lost four in a row, the holiday tournament, and a couple of games after that. We had a nice win against Roselle Park [79-42 victory on Tuesday, January 12, 2016]. This was a better win for us.”
“At halftime, we were five points away from our season average,” Cattano added. “We had not been scoring a lot of points. We had been averaging 36-37 points a game, and our kids seem to be playing better. We’re finally hitting our shots. We made some clutch plays at the end, to get it into overtime, some big shots [and] timeouts worked out well. I’m just really proud of the way our kids competed.”
For Johnson, Visconti would finish the night with 36 points in the loss, while senior Sean Kovatch added ten points for the Crusaders.
Visconti said that the team needs to be able to come together, and battle until the clock hits zero for future games.
“We need to learn that no matter how much we are winning by, the game is never over, we need to play until the end,” Visconti said. “I don’t know if we let up at the end, or just got complacent. Clearly, we let them back in the game which we got to learn from, and finish it off until the end.”
Senior Mitch Becker would contribute ten points of his own for Johnson, and said that in a game like this, each possession counts.
“Never take a possession off,” Becker said. “It’s a one-possession ballgame, and that can change the whole game.”
Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said his team needs to be able to set up, compete, and connect on scoring opportunities, especially in an overtime period.
“We need to be comfortable with ourselves when we get to that point,” Kennedy said. “Both teams played a good game, and give New Providence credit for the win.”
The Johnson Crusaders (3-6) are back in action when they play Roselle Park High School at home Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m.
The New Providence Pioneers (3-6) take on the Brearley High School at home Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.