PISCATAWAY, NJ -- The Piscataway High School boys varsity basketball team beat Lakewood Wednesday night, 58-46, but the outcome of the game wasn’t the most important aspect of the evening.
It was Senior Night in Piscataway, as six Chiefs were honored before the game. One by one, each player walked toward mid-court with members of their family with music playing and an MC saying a few words about each player like their favorite basketball team and a standout quote they each feel is important. Black and gold balloons surrounded the Susan B. Anthony building’s gymnasium and as well as pictures and banners of the players. All six athletes, Mattias Arrindell, Jordan Davidson, Keshawn Grant, Nasir Gray, Robert Terry, and Angelo Manalaysay, were given personalized plaques to take home as well.
And to Davidson, the night was special to him. Aside from scoring 14 points, Piscataway got the win to move to 14-3 on the year -- something he and his fellow seniors were striving for after suffering through disappointing seasons in the past. Secondly, the atmosphere and fan support for the recognized players was greatly appreciated.
“Honestly when I came back to Piscataway High School my sophomore year (played at Gill St. Bernard’s as a freshman), and they were coming off of a 4-16 season, me, Keshawn Grant, and Mattias Arrindell, we all really turned the program around,” Davidson said. “We not only turned ourselves into a county team but a state (tournament) team as well which means a lot. So now in our senior year, we wanted to go out with a bang.
“(The crowd and support) was great tonight. They really showed love.”
While Davidson wasn’t around in 2014-15 as he was at Gill St. Bernard’s, the 4-16 record still happened. The Chiefs improved to 7-14 in 2015-16, but Piscataway brought in a brand-new coach last year in Darius Griffin. Griffin, with the help of these now upperclassmen, has turned the program around. Piscataway went 16-10 in 2016-17, and already have the aforementioned 14-3 record with many games left.
“This senior class is special to me because these kids only won (four) games their first year and seven games their second year. We were able to turn it around a little last year and we were 16-10. This class will hopefully be the class that turns it around where Piscataway basketball is back where it should be,” Griffin said.
“This senior class is important, but their final sentence for them will be written at the end of the year and how we finish up,” he said.
Griffin preaches defense and like any smart coach, game plans and runs a style that fits the roster. However, much of the recent success can be attributed to playing collectively as a team and not playing hero, individual basketball, which Griffin said he felt like happened in the past.
The seniors were critical at understanding that and trusting the process.
“I think they trusted me and trusted what I was trying to sell and that is and was to play team ball. The last few years around here, it wasn’t about the team,” Griffin said. “You know, any team that plays ‘me’ ball, it’s just not going to work. What I always try to tell them, if the team wins, everybody wins. Everybody gets a piece of the pie. Hopefully this team and this year they are starting to believe that and I think that’s the catalyst of what is turning this thing around.”
“He didn’t really know us,” Davidson added. “But over the past two years that we’ve been with him throughout all the summer workouts, in the spring, really all year round, we’ve really worked to become a good team.”
Against Lakewood, Piscataway played as a team and never panicked when they got down in the first quarter as Lakewood implemented a hounding full court pressure defense. The Piners also made a few shots from behind the arc, allowing them to lead 12-7 after one quarter of play.
The Chiefs found their groove, got the ball inside, and eventually look their first lead with 2:11 left in the second on a Davidson pull-up jumper. Piscataway would outscore the Piners in the quarter, 16-9, to lead by two, 23-21, at the break.
To start the third quarter, Piscataway went on an 8-0 run, highlighted by two Davidson 3-pointers. After getting the ball inside to Grant (game-high 19 points) in the second quarter, the perimeter opened up for the shooters. Davidson was able to swish home his open opportunities.
“We just kept giving it to Keshawn which then opened it up for me,” Davidson said. “And once it opened up for me I started getting easy looks and I started to knock them down.”
Piscataway led by as much as 14 in the fourth quarter. Lakewood would get it down to 48-42 with 3:02 remaining by cashing in on free throws.
But, the Chiefs went into ball control mode and iced the game when Keshawn Peterson converted a layup in transition and two free throws courtesy of a flagrant foul by Lakewood with under a minute to go.
Piscataway started a grueling stretch against a Lakewood where it plays four games over a seven-day span. Piscataway plays at Monroe on Thursday night, home versus East Brunswick on Saturday afternoon, and travel to play J.P. Stevens on Tuesday before the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament commences.
The seeding and schedule at this time is not known.
So, in turn, Griffin played a little more zone defense than usual, and put mass subs into the game about halfway through the fourth quarter.
“We’re still trying to healthy. Every team right now has guys who are banged up,” the coach said. “We want to be strong for the GMC’s. I feel like when we are at our full strength, we’re as good as anybody out there. The ideal plan for us is to get stronger and healthier.”
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