PISCATAWAY, NJ -- The East Brunswick and Piscataway boys basketball teams met for the second time in less than 48 hours Saturday morning, and what they established was that there is very little separating these evenly matched squads.
East Brunswick made the big plays down the stretch this time to hold off Piscataway for a 49-45 victory on Saturday, avenging Piscataway's 58-56 overtime triumph over the Bears Thursday night. That one was tied, 49-49, after four quarters.
The two Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division teams were pitted against each other twice in a row due to a quirk in the computer-generated league schedule. It made for a lot of exciting basketball.
With 13.5 seconds left and East Brunswick (5-6) clinging to a 44-42 lead, Max Tischauser went to the line to shoot a one-and-one. He missed the front end, Piscataway momentarily came down with the defensive rebound, but then EB's Jalen Pichardo stole the ball on the baseline, went up strong for a layup and was fouled on the play. Pichardo sank the free throw to complete the three-point play and give the Bears a 47-42 lead with 10.7 seconds left.
After Piscataway moved back within two, 47-45, on a three-point basket with :05 left, Tischhauser went back to the foul line with 2.8 seconds left for another one-plus-one. This time, he made both foul shots to shape the final score.
"Both of our games (with Piscataway) were back and forth and came down to the end," East Brunswick head coach Mark Motusesky said. "After Thursday night, we knew we needed to get better shot selection, and today, we worked better on the inside-outside game in our halfcourt offense and we did a good job on the offensive boards."
Pichardo's last offensive rebound was the biggest of the game, but it was the kind of play that is becoming the norm for East Brunswick's freshman forward, who had nine points Saturday and who is averaging double digits in rebounds.
"Jalen plays with the kind of motor I haven't seen in a long time," Motusesky said. "He plays with so much intelligence and maturity. He is mature beyond his years, and he's a great rebounder. He is averaging over 10 rebounds a game."
Nobody's individual scoring average will elicit much attention on this East Brunswick team, for the simple reason that the Bears go so deep. Motusesky will play upwards of 10 players in most games.
"We never discourage our shooters from taking their shots, and we have a lot of good shooters," Motusesky said. "A lot of our kids are very similar skill-wise. That makes it difficult for our rotation, but we try to find the hot hand in practices and games and go with those kids. Max has worked himself into the rotation lately because of how he's been playing."
East Brunswick looked like it might turn Saturday's rematch into a runaway in the third quarter. The Bears scored the first seven points of the period to open a 30-20 lead. Ricardo Gomez, who led EB with 11 points, hit a baseline jumper, Pichardo turned a steal into a layup and Justin Black took a pass from Jackson Bayuk and drained a three-pointer for the 10-point lead. East Brunswick still led by nine before Piscataway (4-7) scored the last eight points of the quarter to trail the Bears by just one, 34-33.
Piscataway took its only lead of the second half, 37-36, with five minutes left. The game was tied for the last time at 40-40. With 1:35 to go, Gomez scored on a nifty up-and-under move for a 42-40 Bears lead. Then Desola Awoyode of East Brunswick stole the ball and fed Gomez for a layup on the move with 1:13 left for a 44-40 EB lead.