CLARK, NJ -  Arthur L. Johnson High School junior George Visconti drained a three-pointer with 46 seconds left in overtime to lift the Crusaders boys varsity basketball team to a 68-64 victory over the New Providence High School Pioneers Thursday night in Clark.

 “We just had to stick together and play hard throughout the overtime,” Visconti said. “We’re really a defensive-first team and Coach [Kennedy] and I try to emphasize that to the boys. We know our offense is good enough where we’re going to score, so we just want to focus on getting those key stops.”

Although the Crusaders led in scoring through much of the night, ending the half with a double-digit advantage, the Pioneers battled hard in a furious fourth-quarter comeback.

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The Crusaders controlled the first quarter, taking a 19-9 lead through the first eight minutes of action on the court.

The second quarter showed a New Providence push to cut into the deficit. NP junior Jackson Barletta Jr. drained a layup while sophomore Greg Meyers drilled a three-pointer to pull the Pioneers back into the game. They trailed Johnson 27-24 with just over a minute left in the first half.

In that last 60 seconds, the Crusaders would score eight straight points to take back a comfortable 35-24 halftime lead and build momentum that would carry over into the third quarter.

Johnson sophomore Brandon Hund led the Crusaders behind the arc with key baskets, scoring eight points (2 three-point baskets) in the third quarter to contribute to a 45-32 lead. Junior Joe DiProfio added a basket in the quarter.

New Providence freshman Sean Dillon and Meyers drained back-to-back three-point baskets to cut the Johnson lead to eight points. The Crusaders held a 52-42 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Pioneers would not go away quietly and battled back to give themselves a chance.

The Pioneers scored seven straight points, with junior Patrick Trezza connecting on one of two free throws and draining a basket. Meyers scored back-to-back baskets to cut the lead to 52-49 with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter. DiProfio and Hund drained shots to make the lead 57-51 Johnson with 2:30 left to play.

The Crusaders held a 60-55 lead with 1:26 left, but Meyers was fouled while trying to shot a three-point basket. He drained all three of them and Barletta tied the game at 60 with two free throws with 1:16 left. The teams headed to overtime following a missed chance by the Crusaders.

Hund drained his fifth 3-point basket of the night to put Johnson ahead 63-60, the first basket of the overtime period, 1:48 left. New Providence held a 64-63 lead with two baskets from both Barletta Jr. and Dillon with 59 seconds left.

With his team trailing, Visconti would not allow the game to get away from the Crusaders. He scored a three-point basket with 46 seconds left, causing the Johnson fans to erupt. His team led 66-64 and locked down on defense to stop the Pioneers.

DiProfio cashed in on an insurance basket to seal the deal. He finished the night with nine points for the Crusaders and provided his thoughts on the key victory in a rivalry game.

“We really just fought their [scoring] run and keeping in mind that we win our games on defense,” DiProfio said. “In the fourth quarter, we didn’t come out with good defense, but we stepped it up in overtime to get the win.”

Hund finished the night with 20 points, with 5 three-point baskets to help his team come through with a hard-fought victory.

“We know that we have another level that can elevate us to the next level to get by as a team,” Hund said. “It was also important to stay together and work off of each other to finish the game right. We worked very hard tonight and we got by with a win.”

For the Pioneers, Barletta Jr. led his team with 20 points, while Meyers added 15 points on the night in the loss. Sophomore Dylan Bedder had nine points for New Providence.

“I was very proud of our effort and the way we fought back,” New Providence head coach Art Cattano said. “I think we were down by 13 at one point. Our kids did a great job, they hit big shots and made some big stops. I told them that sometimes you lose games and don’t play hard, but we have a good feeling after this one, we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

The Johnson Crusaders (11-1) are back in action when they play Roselle Park HS on Tuesday, January 24 at 7:00 p.m.

The New Providence Pioneers (5-6) are back in action in a home game when they play Metuchen HS Saturday, January 21 at 1:00 p.m.

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Metuchen HS Saturday, January 21 at 1:00 p.m.