BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- Each time the Hunterdon Central boys basketball team seemed on the verge of putting the game out of reach, Bridgewater-Raritan turned into flypaper.
Although the Red Devils prevailed in a 64-58 victory Tuesday night, Bridgewater-Raritan hung around, never went away and battled to the end.
Eric Molto scored 13 points to lead a very balanced offensive effort by Hunterdon Central (9-8), which trailed by six points midway through the second quarter before going on an 11-0 run to take the lead for good late in the first half. But the Red Devils lead never pushed past 10 points, and hot second-half shooting by Rishi Mudduluru kept the Panthers in the game. Mudduluru finished with a team-high 16 points and sank four 3-pointers.
"Give them credit," Hunterdon Central head coach Mike Falco said of Bridgewater. "We tried to speed the game up and they were able to handle a lot of our traps. They knocked down a lot of 3s. Gene McAteer is a heck of a coach, and when you go on the road in this (Skyland) conference, you're just happy to get a win."
Bridgewater-Raritan (4-15) scored nine straight points early in the second quarter to open its biggest lead. Guard Gio Nazareno came off the bench to give the Panthers a big boost with five second-quarter points. Joey Callari scored five of his 13 points in the spurt for BRHS.
Hunterdon Central had to figure out a way to handle the absence of forward Brian Johansson for stretches of the second quarter after he picked up his third foul. Michael Zaragoza picked up the slack with a pair of 3-pointers and Matt Ciszkowski scored five of his nine points in the 11-0 run that brought the Red Devils back as they took a 33-28 lead.
Point guard Alvin Cheng, who handed out six assists, knocked down a free throw and a driving layup to bring the Panthers back within two, 40-38. But they never were able to tie the game after that. Late in the third quarter, Hunterdon Central ran off seven straight points to take a 49-39 lead. Johansson had two assists in that run, which saw Ciszkowski hit a layup, Joseph Sei (11 points) sink a pair of foul shots, and Tyler Cassella bury a 3-pointer.
"Usually, Brian and Matt carry a lot of the scoring load for us, but we do have a lot of players capable of scoring 10 to 15 points a night," Falco said. "That makes us tough to guard. We are at our best when we are balanced."
That balance also extended to Hunterdon Central's crisp pass work. Johansson led the Red Devils in assists with four, but Molto and Sei each contributed three assists as their offense was able to smartly work the ball around with patience against Bridgewater-Raritan's zone defense.
Alec Whelan finished with nine points for Bridgewater-Raritan, working his way inside while the other Panthers were doing damage from the perimeter. Bridgewater hit nine 3-pointers in the game. Hunterdon Central knocked down eight treys.