EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - This was a game that deserved to be played in February or March, and not December.
In a game featuring the defending Central Jersey group IV champs and this year’s top ranked team, one could have expected a high quality, all-out battle. That is exactly what the sellout, overflow crowd at East Brunswick High School got. What nobody saw coming was a last minute, stunning comeback by St. Joseph’s of Metuchen, who stormed back from a 44-38 deficit with a minute left in the game, hitting a layup at the buzzer to hand the Bears of East Brunswick a gut wrenching 46-44 defeat.
The first quarter saw almost as many fouls as points, as the referees seemed determined to keep the game from getting out of hand physically. It ended with St. Joe’s holding a narrow 13-12 lead and both teams searching for an edge. Things changed in the second quarter when Bears coach Mark Motuesky, in his debut as head coach after years as assistant coach, decided to change things up and switch to a zone defense. However, the talented St. Joe’s five started hitting shots from long range, opening up the court for their talented senior center, Kentucky-bound Karl Towns, and for the remainder of the second quarter, the Bears had no answer for Towns. St. Joe’s went on a 9-0 run to end the quarter, and the teams headed to the locker room with St. Joe’s holding a 27-19 lead.
The Bears came out for the second half playing far more aggressively, and returning to the man to man defense that worked so well early in the game. Bears guards Amir Bell and Garry Baumer keyed a strong run to start the second half, and the Bears quickly erased the halftime deficit, tying the game at 27 with about five minutes to play in the third quarter. The remainder of the third quarter was a tremendous back and forth battle, with the quarter ending with the game tied at 33-33.
The battle continued into the early part of quarter four, with both teams looking to gain the upper hand. The edge finally came with about two and half minutes to play when Bell scored on a driving layup, and then after a defensive stop, the Bears came back downcourt and Baumer hit a long three pointer to give the Bears a 40-35 lead.
After trading baskets and free throws, it seemed the Bears had the game in control with 1:17 to play, when they led 44-38. Then St. Joe’s guard Wade Baldwin hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 44-41 with 50 seconds to play. After St. Joe’s called a timeout, East Brunswick was called for a turnover while inbounding the ball, and St. Joe’s regained possession. After inbounding the ball, Towns showed why he is one of the nation’s top recruits, hitting a long three pointer with 22 seconds left to tie the game 44-44.
The Bears then inbounded the ball and worked it downcourt, calling timeout with eight seconds to play to try to setup a game winning shot. Unfortunately, St. Joe’s tied up the Bears players fighting for the inbounds pass, and Towns ended up with the ball, dribbling downcourt and finding an open Raven Owen alone under the basket for the game winning layup as the buzzer sounded.
It was a devastating loss to start the season for the Bears, but for a team that lost a number of key players from last year’s championship team, it was a gritty, gutsy effort against a team that clearly will be heard from in the championship conversations all year long. In particular, Amir Bell had a fantastic game. The Bears guard, bound for Princeton next season finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocked shots. For coach Motuesky, his debut ended on a disappointing note, but he deserves credit as he really had the Bears ready for this game, and things look really optimistic for this team as the season moves on.
Next up for the Bears, North Brunswick in the Brunswick Classic, November 27 at 2:30 at EBHS.