SOMERSET- It would’ve taken a good start and many minutes of mistake-free basketball for the sixth-seeded North Plainfield boys high school team to pull off the upset against the third-seeded Rutgers Prep in today’s Somerset County quarterfinal tournament game. Unfortunately for the Canucks (16-5), the game just got away from them.
Early foul trouble for North Plainfield, and a strong offensive output from the Argonauts (12-9) gave Rutgers Prep a 78-53 blowout home win, and ousted the Canucks from the county tournament.
Canucks head coach Reggie Sainte Rose said that the loss was a result of not just Rutgers Prep’s skill, but also his players not playing up to their capabilities. Today’s game marked the first time this season the Canucks lost by more than five points, and just the second time the team has lost since mid-January.
North Plainfield’s problems started off early, as senior standout Jason Gardener was forced to hit the bench in the first quarter after picking up three quick fouls. The Canucks’ early fouling created rotation issues that forced players to pick up the slack in areas they usually don’t have to, and Rutgers Prep took full advantage of it.
The Argonauts’ offense gave them an 18-12 lead heading into the second quarter, which turned into a 35-24 lead at halftime. Two of the Argonauts’ second half points came off a thunderous alley-oop that was lobbed up by Jake Needleman and slammed home by Zachary Brown.
A barrage of three pointers by Nashone Battle in the early parts of the second half put the game out of reach. Battle finished with 12 points, all of which came from his second half long-range bombs.
“I think defensively we could have played a lot better,” said Sainte Rose. “We gave up the baseline, committed silly fouls and got in foul trouble very early.”
“We made a lot of errors that we don’t usually don’t make, the coach added. “Part of it is that they’re a good team, but a lot of it is that we didn’t do what we usually do.”
Ka-Ron Dock led North Plainfield with a game-high 15 points, while Tony Godwin netted 13 points to keep his 13-game double digit scoring streak alive. Despite the overall poor showing from the team, Canuck big man Jason Okali’s ability to do the little things in the paint gave Sainte Rose at least one thing to be impressed by.
“I like the way he’s coming on,” the coach said. “He accepted his role all year, didn’t complain just kept practicing, and now we’re seeing the benefits of his hard work. I hope for and expect bigger things from him in the rest of the year.”
The Canucks have a few regular season games to wrap up before the state tournament begins. Sainte Rose is confident that his senior leaders will make sure this tough loss doesn’t stay on his players going forward.
“We’re a senior-led team, and I trust those guys,” Sainte Rose I’ll always trust those guys. A lot of them played four years for me and they’ve never given me anything but their best. Tonight wasn’t a good night, and that’s going to happen. Hopefully we learn and move on.