NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ-  The New Providence High School Pioneers boys varsity basketball team took to their home floor with a packed crowd and a chance to improve upon their hot start to the season. They got the first quarter started on a 9-0 run, connecting on five three-point shots in the opening quarter and defeated the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders by a final score of 79-65 Thursday night in New Providence.

They held the Crusaders to zero points through the first four minutes of action before taking a 23-9 lead, heading into the second quarter.

“Our kids were excited about playing tonight [with a] crowd,” New Providence head coach Art Cattano said. “We just shot the ball well. I’m really pleased with how we’ve been shooting the ball. We put a lot of points on the board.”

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The Pioneers continued to strike every minute of their time on offense, receiving contributions from all players on the floor. They led by as much as 29-11 with 5:57 left in the second quarter, preventing the Crusaders from getting any major chances at scoring. Later in the quarter, Johnson made a run to get back in the game.

“We were in attack mode right from the tipoff and I give credit to all of the guys coming in early and getting up shots,” New Providence sophomore Sean Dillon said.

Dillon finished the game with 19 points, while junior Greg Meyers finished the night with 17 points.

With New Providence leading 35-20 with 1:43 left in the second quarter, Johnson went on an 8-0 scoring run with junior Brandon Hund draining a shot and junior Brenden Kelly connecting for a three-point shot.

Senior George Visconti cut the lead down to 35-28 with a three-point shot of his own, before New Providence got a shot off before the buzzer, going into halftime with a 37-28 lead, withstanding a late Crusaders push.

“It’s a sign of us improving as a team,” Cattano said. “At halftime, we said [Johnson was] very good and to expect a run and you’ve got to keep playing like we have and handle the pressure. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep a big lead, but the guys did a good job.”

New Providence started the second half and built a 44-30 lead in the first three minutes of the third quarter, but Johnson would try and make another run to get back in the game. Back-to-back baskets from Kelly and Visconti cut the lead down to 44-35 with 3:34 left in the third quarter.

The Pioneers found a way to fight back and went back on the offense, regaining a 14-point lead, at 49-35. They led the Crusaders 53-40 heading to the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, New Providence contained Johnson, putting the game away with timely baskets, getting the responses following Johnson baskets, to capture the victory, their ninth of the last ten games.

“[New Providence was] getting out on the fast breaks scoring,” Johnson senior Jeff Drajin said. “We really weren’t playing together. We started to come together later in the game, but it wasn’t enough.”

For the Crusaders, while they were able to build a run to try and get back in the game, the slow start, where they fell behind by a score of 9-0, proved to be trouble they couldn’t fully emerge from as the rest of the game played out.

“We dug ourselves a big hole and we almost fought our way out of it,” Johnson senior Dave Kennedy said. “Give [New Providence] credit. We did some nice things, but just didn’t have enough time.”

In total, the Pioneers hit seven three-point shots in the win, getting the packed crowd riled up as the shots continued falling for New Providence.

“We all really worked together and played unselfishly the entire year and played for each other,” Meyers said following the win.

The last time the two teams met, Johnson defeated New Providence in Clark by a final score of 68-58 on December 15, 2017.

“It was our first game of the season, so we weren’t as prepared, but as the season has been going along, we’ve gotten a lot better,” New Providence junior Brian Kelly said. “We’ve learned to play as a team and pick up our intensity on defense, which really brought us back in the game. It was the key factor in what decided the game.”

Brian Kelly scored 14 points for the Pioneers in the win.

In the loss, Visconti led his team with 20 points, while Kelly tallied 16 points for the Crusaders. Hund added ten points of his own.

The Johnson Crusaders (6-4) will play St. Peter’s Prep (Jersey City) Saturday night at 5:00 p.m. at Kean University.

The New Providence Pioneers (9-2) will go on the road and play at Dayton HS Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.