NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The Piscataway High School varsity boys basketball team stormed back in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a big first quarter deficit as the second-seeded Chiefs fell to seventh-seeded Colonia, 71-63, in the quarterfinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament in New Brunswick.

But don’t call it an upset just because one team was seeded five spots lower than the other.

“It might have been an upset to everyone else, but I don’t think it was a surprise to us,” said Colonia guard Frank Lehmann, who scored 18 points on the afternoon, displaying fancy dribbling moves along the way. “We know how good we really are and how good we can be.”

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Piscataway won the opening tip, but had a shot blocked near the rim. Colonia then went on a whopping 15-0 run to start the game as the Patriots were on fire and couldn’t miss. Colonia was patient, moved the ball around, found the open man, and shot the best shot possible.

Connor Bevilacqua (12 points) hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Lehmann made a layup, was fouled, and converted the free throw. Luke Valeriano (18 points) had a layup and big man Chris Sica was wide-open in the paint and easily kissed the ball off glass for four more points.

The Chiefs didn’t score until the 4:00 mark on a put-back, two-handed slam dunk.

“We had a lot of energy coming in,” Lehmann said. “...We were shooting lights out. Connor had two big 3’s and everyone just had it going. We weren’t missing.”

“They were hitting their shots and we became a little impatient,” said Piscataway head coach Darius Griffin, Sr. “I thought that we did not expect for them to hit as many shots as they did.”

Colonia kept its foot on the gas and led 36-25 at the break as the Chiefs finally found a little offense driving to the hoop.

Piscataway, led by guard Tyree Barba-Bey, led the charge for the Chiefs in the second half. Barba-Bey finished with 16 points in the contest, and he, much like the rest of his teammates, found success with layups in transition or from set pieces. Piscataway outscored Colonia, 16-12, in the third quarter to cut the Patriots’ lead to 48-41.

The Chiefs continued to scratch and claw and went on a 6-2 run to begin the fourth to make it a three-point game at 50-47.

Down 15-0 to start the game, some teams would have put its heads down and sulked. But, Griffin and the Chiefs battled back, and it goes along with the culture change he is trying to instill in his second year.

“It shows that we have pride,” Griffin said of battling back. “We have to continue to understand the moment and continue to fight. That’s part of changing the culture. We made strides.”

However, unlike many other times this season in their 20-win campaign so far, the Chiefs couldn’t quite come all the way back and get over the hump. An over the back foul call on Antonio Chandler (13 points), followed up by an offensive rebound and two baskets by Lehmann put the Patriots ahead 54-47. Colonia kept its composure and closed out the game with key free throws even with Piscataway doing everything it could to score and foul taking the least amount of time off the clock it could.

“Like coach said, we knew they were going to make a run,” Lehmann added. “It had to happen at some point. They have good shooters. We knew it was going to happen, and we just had to weather the storm and keep executing.”

With the win, Colonia will meet third-seeded Old Bridge in the semifinals at South Brunswick on Tuesday.

Piscataway on the other hand will have a few days to prepare and rest up before the state tournament, though Griffin and the Chiefs would rather keeping playing in the county tournament.

Piscataway has the No. 5 seed in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 bracket.

“Just like with anything else and especially in sports, you have to have a short memory,” Griffin said. “It’s not easy, but you have to respect the pain and then put it past you and get ready for tomorrow.”

Mattias Arrindell also tallied 12 points while Jordan Davidson had an off day, finishing with nine for the Chiefs.

TAPintoPiscataway.net is an online newspaper serving the Township of Piscataway.

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