BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- While balance on the scoresheet has been one trait of the East Brunswick boys basketball team this season, the Bears also are at their best when their shot chart is balanced, as well.
East Brunswick established its ability to attack both in the paint and from the perimeter early in the game, built an eight-point lead before the end of the first quarter and went on to defeat Bridgewater-Raritan, 65-48, Saturday afternoon.
The victory put the Bears (10-9) back over .500 with the Greater Middlesex Conference set to seed its tournament later next week. East Brunswick showed resiliency after a 20-point loss to South Brunswick Thursday interrupted the team's recent momentum.
Freshman forward Jalen Pichardo scored 17 points, guard Rico Gomez scored 14, Jackson Bayuk hit four 3-pointers and had 13 points, and center Devin Kennedy finished with 12 points for East Brunswick, which started fast and finished strong. The Bears, who had scored the first seven points of the game, closed it out with an 18-8 run.
Sophomore forward Joey Callari scored 16 points for the Panthers, who opened the fourth quarter with a 7-2 spurt capped by a 3-pointer by Zach Letts with 5:45 left to bring Bridgewater-Raritan to within seven points at 47-40. East Brunswick outscored them, 18-8, the rest of the way.
Early in the game, East Brunswick showed the ability to strike from different areas of the floor, making the Bears tough for Bridgewater to defend. Kennedy began the game by scoring underneath, Bayuk hit a 3-pointer with an assist from Jalen Pichardo, and Kennedy dropped in a mid-range jumper for a 7-0 lead less that three minutes in.
Alec Whelan, who finished with eight points, turned a layup into a 3-point play Bridgewater's first points, but East Brunswick's offensive efficiency combined with its ability to force turnovers in its halfcourt zone prevented the Panthers from gathering any momentum early in the contest.
Kennedy and Pichardo were scoring inside, opening up the perimeter for Bayuk, who hit three of his 3-pointers in the opening half, and Desola Awoyode, who also canned a trey that boosted the Bears' lead to 30-17 with 1:10 left in the first half. Pichardo also showed a knack for finding the open man with three first-half assists.
Only Bridgewater-Raritan's perfect performance at the foul line, where the Panthers were nine-for-nine in the first half, kept things for being worse for coach Gene McAteer's team in the first half.