CRANFORD, NJ -- A week that had begun with much promise on Sunday has become the most challenging week of a thus-far difficult season for the New Providence boys basketball team.

On Sunday, the Pioneers battled a strong Group 4 Union team to the wire, coming within a missed buzzer-beating 3-pointer of beating the Farmers in a game Union won, 56-54, in a showcase at Kean University.

All-conference guard Sean Dillon finished with 20 points, seven assists and four steals in the loss to Union, but during that game he strained a leg muscle, which affected his performance and limited his minutes in a 64-33 loss to a rejuvenated Oratory team on Tuesday.

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Then, Thursday afternoon, hours after signing his national letter of intent to Division 2 Seton Hill University, Dillon sat out New Providence's road game against Cranford. Despite his absence, as well as three first-half fouls to the Pioneers' best post player, Carsten Schumm, New Providence was competing admirably and still were within three points, 36-33, late in the first half.

But Cranford scored seven points in the span of 10 catastrophic seconds (two free throws, a steal and a layup, then another immediate steal and a 3-pointer) to close out the first half with a 10-point lead, and in the second half the Cougars turned the game into a runaway, defeating New Providence, 82-45.

Sophomore guard Nick Bisaccia scored 15 points for the Pioneers and Schumm, before being saddled with foul difficulties, collected 10 points and eight rebounds against Cranford. But the absence of Dillon, a senior and the Pioneers' primary ball handler and playmaker, was telling, as Cranford overplayed the Pioneer guards up high and came up with a lot of steals leading to transition baskets.

Injuries such as the one that is keeping Dillon's status day-to-day for now are never a timely occurrence, but this is a particularly trying week for New Providence on the schedule, as the Pioneers are in the midst of playing four games in seven days (a team is only allowed that heavy a concentration of games in a week one time during the course of a season).

On Saturday, New Providence is scheduled to play at Delbarton on Saturday. Delbarton is 7-2, but, ironically, one of its losses was Tuesday night against Chatham--a team New Providence defeated in December.