LIVINGSTON, NJ - Joe Kizel, co-captain for the Millburn Millers, scored 15 second half points including several key free throws at the end of the game, to help erase a 12 point half-time deficit and defeat the Livingston Lancers 43-39 on Thursday night at Livingston High School.
Being down by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Millers' comeback effort against the Lancers was their best of the season. It all started in the third quarter when Kizel caught fire, as he made four field goals, including two three pointers, and a free throw. Andrew Spelman and Alex Rosenberg also contributed with two points apiece and the Millers held the Lancers to just two baskets in the first eight minutes after half time. Millburn was down by just one 30-29 going into the fourth.
"I guess we were kind of discouraged after the first half. We had no energy and played terribly," Kizel said. "We didn't want to lose this game...being the captain of the team I knew I had to step up (in the second half)."
However, the Lancers refused to let a strong Millburn team sustain momentum for too long. The Lancers were up by four points with 4:39 to play as the Millers' comeback seemed to be thwarted. However, little by little, the Millers chipped away, whether it was Rosenberg driving to the basket and making layups or the team drawing fouls and converting on free throw opportunities.
The Millers found themselves down by one with just under a minute to play and with possession of the ball. Kizel brought the ball up court and passed the ball off as it appeared the Millers were waiting to take the last shot of the game. However, Miller found Rosenberg close to the basket and the Millburn star made a close range shot to give his team a 40-39 advantage with thirty seconds left to go.
"I wasn't really thinking about anything when I put it up. I thought I owed it to my team to make the shot and I did," Rosenberg said of his game winning shot in a pressure situation.
The Lancers had two more opportunities to win the game after that, but were unable to come away with any points. Corey Eisen received a pass for the Lancers on the right side of the three point line. He attempted to drive the ball to the basket, but received a charging foul when he knocked down Millburn's Spelman, who held his ground. After a made free throw by the Millers, Lancer's guard Matt Fung just missed a three pointer that would have provided his team with a one point lead with just 16 seconds left.
"We did a great job defensively and the kids played loose offensively," Livingston Head Coach Dave Cohen said. "Unfortunately, at the end we got tight and couldn't put the ball in the basket," he continued.
Despite the loss the Lancers played a strong game, especially in the first half. Sam Abam scored seven in the first quarter for the Lancers and Fung contributed with five in a dominating opening to a game in which they led Millburn 16-4 going into the second quarter.
The Lancers stayed hot in the second quarter. Sam White had two transition baskets and Fung made a second three pointer as the Lancers led 26-14 going into half time.
"I thought we contained their two great players, Kizel and Rosenberg (in the first half). I'm real pleased with them and tonight's game proves that we can play with anybody in the county," Coach Cohen said.
With the win, Millburn improves to 11-0 on the season, but they have a difficult schedule coming up. They play three tough teams -- West Essex, Central Newark, and Newark Academy -- before the Essex County Tournament next Saturday.
With a win over West Essex, the Millers could be awarded a bye and a five seed in the tournament; the highest seed in Millburn boys basketball history. Livingston, which dropped to 5-6 with Thursday's loss, plays against Belleville on Tuesday afternoon.