BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Gov. Livingston boys basketball (3-4,2-1) team split a pair of UCC-Valley Division games this past week. After dropping a 44-40 road decision to division leader Rahway (8-1,4-0) on Tuesday the team rebounded with a 53-49 double overtime win over Oratory (5-2,2-1) on Thursday in Berkeley Heights.
After an 0-3 start, Gov. Livingston has won three of their last four behind the strong play of senior Sean McCulloch and sophomore Brian McGrath.This week, Gov. Livingston will face a critical stretch of basketball when they host UCC-Valley division games against Cranford (4-4, 0-3) and Summit (5-2, 3-1). If Gov. Livingston has any hopes of posting a second consecutive winning season, the Highlanders need to take care of business this week on their home court which begins on Tuesday night when Cranford comes in.
Gov. Livingston 53, Oratory 49
Sean McCulloch hit his second huge shot of the week when with 2.9 seconds left in regulation, he buried a deep game tying 3 pointer to force overtime against visiting Oratory. It would take two additional overtime periods before the Highlanders could secure a hard fought 53-49 UCC-Valley division victory over the Rams this past Thursday evening in Berkeley Heights. McCulloch and Brian McGrath each scored 15 points in the win. However, it was the Gov. Livingston defense that allowed the Highlanders to grind out their third win of the season. Gov. Lvingston's pressure on defense yielded a season high 20 steals for the game.
Oratory looked like it was going to present some unique matchup problems for Gov. Livingston with a pair of 6’8" centers in senior Lucas Pavlounis (10 pts,10 Reb) and sophomore Tommy Conniff (2 pts,10 Reb). However as the game got underway it quickly became apparent that Gov. Livingston's smaller lineup was the one creating matchup problems. Led by 6’3” sophomore Brian McGrath (11 ppg ), who was attacking the rim on offense and aggressively playing the top of the Highlanders 1-2-2 zone defense, Gov. Livingston jumped out to a 15-10 first quarter lead.
The two teams had trouble scoring the ball in the second quarter as the pace of the game slowed down. With Oratory’s Peter Byrne (17 pts) knocking down a couple of three balls and Gov. Livingston unable to convert some easy close looks, the Highlanders were left clinging to a 19-17 lead at the half. Sophomore guard Chris Micca (4 pts) was a bright spot off the bench for Gov. Livingston scoring on a pair of tough inside put backs in the first half.
Gov. Livingston’s offensive woes continued throughout the third quarter as Oratory outscored the home team by 10 to take an 8 point lead.
With six minutes left in the game, Gov. Livingston finally sped up the tempo as they did in the opening minutes of the game and it immediately paid off. The hustling trapping defense created problems especially for the Oratory backcourt. Consecutive Ram turnovers were met with a McCulloch three ball, a Vin Melusi drive which had Gov. Livingston back to within one possession.
Still trailing by three with less than 10 seconds left on the clock McCulloch was thinking nothing but a three to tie the game. After barley crossing into the front court McCulloch confidently let a long three go with seconds left in the game. For the second time in a week McCulloch hit a huge three, this time to force the game into overtime.
The battle continued for a pair of four minute OT periods before some clutch free throw shooting in the final minute by seniors Connor Bigelow and Blaine Gyory finally sealed the Highlander win.
McGrath has emerged as the Highlanders leading scorer, now averaging 11 ppg. In addition to his 15 points, the sophomore forward also led the team with 10 rebounds. McCulloch’s 15 points included a pair of three pointers and raised his season average to 10 a game. Vin Melusi knocked in 8 points and recorded three steals. Peyton Hopeck finished with seven points, six boards, and four steals.
Rahway 44, Gov. Livingston 40
Gov. Livingston headed to Rahway on Tuesday riding the momentum of their last second Super Saturday 56-55 win over New Providence. Gov. Livingston, who has not beaten Rahway since 2015, was facing an experienced Indian team who this season added St. Thomas Aquinas transfer Ernest Carter to their lineup. Carter a talented scorer has quickly blended in veteran Rahway coach Jeff Lubreski’s "refusal to quit“ system.
The two teams played exceptional defense in the first quarter which ended with Rahway holding a slim 9-8 lead. The stout opening quarter of defense by both squads set the tone for the game, but Rahway managed to capitalize on a host of second quarter Gov. Livingston turnovers to build a 25-14 half-time lead.
In the second half, the visiting Highlanders turned up their pressure and managed to outscore the Indians 15-9 to close to within striking distance. Offensively, Brian McGrath, Sean McCulloch , and Connor Bigelow led the comeback as the Highlanders climbed back into the game.
Unfortunately, Governor Livingston could not get any closer than two and Rahway managed to maintain their slim lead throughout the remainder of the game. Poor foul shooting by the Highlanders was the difference maker in this hard fought contest as they converted only just one foul shot (1-8) compared to seven made by the Indians.
Carter finished with a game high 13 for Rahway. McGrath scored 11 points with McCulloch and Bigelow chipping in 8 apiece. Gov. Lvingston will get another shot at breaking Rahway’s win streak against them on January 23rd in Berkeley Heights.