SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Al Richardson has spent nearly this entire basketball season on the bench. The senior guard at Union Catholic has been rehabbing a sprained ankle, and to say he's been frustrated by the injury that's prevented him from playing is a massive understatement.
"It's been really hard to not be able to play,'' said Richardson. "All I've wanted to do is get back on the court and contribute for my team.''
For the first time in more than two weeks, after missing seven straight games, Richardson finally got back on the court when the Vikings took on Union on Thursday night at Union Catholic. And Richardson certainly made up for lost time by delivering arguably the biggest shot of the season so far for UC.
After Union took its first lead of the game, 53-52, with 1:23 left to play in the fourth quarter, Richardson knocked down an NBA distance three-pointer from way beyond the arc that sent the crowd into a frenzy and put the Vikings back ahead, 55-53,
After a missed shot by Union, UC's Matt Tracey, who had another great all-round game (14 points, 7 boards, 2 steals), made two free throws to secure a 57-53 victory as the surging Vikings captured their sixth straight victory to improve to 7-1 on the season and 2-0 vs Union County competition.
"It was great to finally be back out there with my teammates,'' said Richardson, who was playing for first time since the season opening victory over Sinai Christian on Dec. 20. "And to hit that shot and help the team win means a lot to me. When I saw that I had a clean look, I felt good about taking the shot and it went down.''
Before Richardson's game-winning 3 came after he had missed his previous four shots.
"You can't worry about the shots you missed, you have to stay confident that the next one will go down,'' said Richardson.
Just like UC did in its victory over Plainfield on Tuesday, the Vikings got out to a fast start vs. Union, grabbing a 12-2 lead as Bradley Young and Isaac Holmes scored five points each in the surge.
Union, now 7-2 on the season, battled back to cut the deficit to 20-16 after the first quarter.
Both teams were cold from the floor in the second quarter, which can be contributed to the aggressive and tenacious defense that both teams exhibited. UC scored just eight points in the quarter, and scored its only field goal of the period when Richardson buried a 3 with 1:17 to go before halftime. UC took a 28-25 lead into the second half.
In the third quarter, UC went on a 7-0 run when Tracey connected on a 3-pointer, Young scored on a layup after a steal, and Caleb Reed scored on a strong follow-up basket. Union responded by closing out the quarter on a 6-1 run to cut the deficit to 40-35.
UC opened a 45-37 lead early in the fourth quarter when Elijah Barlow, who played another heady game at the point guard spot (10 points, 2 steals), drilled a three-pointer.
Union again answered with a 7-2 spurt to take its short-lived one point lead, 53-52.
That set the stage for Richardson's heroics.
Next up for the Vikings is a matchup vs. Seton Hall Prep on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Dunn Center in Elizabeth.