NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Pioneer senior guard Kevin Vass has been a man amongst boys for most of the New Providence boys’ basketball 2015-16 campaign. Tuesday night proved why two - even three or four for that matter – are better than one.
Playing with senior Sean Cole for the first time all year, who was cleared to play for the first time this year on Monday following off-season ACL surgery, as well as strong offensive performances from fellow senior Peter House and freshman Brian Kelly, Vass and company outlasted cross-town rival Gov. Livingston, 50-44, in front of the sold out Main Gym at New Providence High School.
“We have some help now,” New Providence head coach Art Cattano said. “Brian Kelly, the freshman, had a good night tonight with 10 points. There’s another kid they have to worry about. We had Sean Cole back. Peter House has really come on for us as the year has gone on. He’s done a great job. We have a few more weapons that people have to worry about.”
House and Kelly both had career nights, with Kelly staging the second 10-point performance of his young varsity career and House nailing a career-best three 3-pointers. It was Vass, however, who provided the raucous Pioneer Nation with a reason to cheer.
After Gov. Livingston turned a 16-point second quarter deficit into a one point lead in the final minute of the third quarter, Vass raised the roof with 6 seconds to play in the period when he hit a sprawling layup while being hammered by a Highlander defender to give New Providence the lead for good.
“It really pumped us up because we really didn't make any plays up until that point in the third quarter,” Vass said. “We really needed some energy to get us going and finish the game.”
Vass’s play ignited a 17-5 run that lasted until the final minute of regulation to send the Pioneers home victorious for just the third time this month.
“They definitely had the momentum going then we got it back with those two baskets,” Cattano said. “[Gov. Livingston] put all that work in and all of a sudden they looked deflated after that. We kept it going into the fourth quarter. Those were two big plays for us.”
New Providence came out of the opening tip firing on all cylinders, as the Pioneers hit six first half 3-pointers, including Cole’s first basket of the year.
However, Gov. Livingston’s Jack Davey and Billy Pencek combined to score 20 points and keep the Highlanders within an arm’s reach of the Pioneers, culminating in a 12-2 run in the third quarter to set up Vass’s late game heroics.
“Once we got started, we were feeling it,” Vass said. “The energy fed off into the rest of the game. We really got going. In the third quarter, we took the foot off the pedal. Besides that I feel like we played really hard and inspired all game.”
While Cole’s return to action and the Gov. Livingston Highlanders coming to town was enough inspiration to spark a victory, a special halftime game featuring students with autism pushed the energy level at New Providence High School to an all-time high.
Cattano even kept his players on the sideline for almost the entire length of halftime to watch the game because there are more important things than winning and losing.
“That’s all part of how our kids are and what we’re all about,” Cattano said on the halftime festivities. “I actually started walking in but said, no, we should stay out and watch. Patrick Trezza’s brother is one of the players. Right away, he said thanks coach.”
The Pioneers return to action on Wednesday for a Senior Night matchup with Caldwell High School.