SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — Surviving and advancement is all that matters when it comes to tournament play.
And at times on Saturday, it didn’t look like Scotch Plains-Fanwood would survive the first round of the 81st Union County Tournament. A familiar kryptonite, 16-seeded Roselle was just seconds away from producing a true bracket buster, while the nine-seeded Raiders were on the brink of a collapse.
Saved by the three ball and successful when granted new life in overtime, the Raiders avoided upset and pulled out a 59-56 victory at home. The Raiders advance to the tournament’s second round and will play eight-seeded New Providence on Wednesday, with a trip to play national superpower Roselle Catholic in the quarterfinals on the line.
Ryan Muench drained an pull up NBA-range three-pointer out of a time out with eight seconds left in regulation to knot the game up at 51 apiece and force overtime. Muench’s three capped off a game-saving 8-2 Raiders run, which lasted just over a minute and allowed the team to recover from a once seven point fourth quarter deficit.
As they’ve made a habit of doing on Saturday afternoon games, the Raiders again found themselves in overtime. But unlike last week against New Providence — whom the Raiders will likely rematch in the second round — SPF won this four minute extra frame, 8-5, and improves to 17-4 with the win.
Sharpshooting Muench scored 12 points total on four three-pointers, while Jack Brady added a team-high 14 points to lead Scotch Plains-Fanwood. Lamont Cruse was a key cog in the Raiders’ rally, scoring four points in both the fourth quarter and overtime, including a pair of foul shots with seconds left to ice the game.
With the Raiders down a point and 38 seconds left in OT, Tommy Drubulis banked floater to give his team a 57-56 advantage, and they’d never trail again — though a desperation shot by Roselle’s Chris Lango rimmed in and out as time expired.
Fortunately for Scotch Plains-Fanwood, the strong overtime, Muench’s clutch three, and some timely scoring in the fourth quarter washed away Roselle’s late lead, which at one point was actually pretty commanding. Though the Raiders entered the second half with a 29-20 lead, slowly but surely, the Rams crept back and, after opening up the fourth on a 7-0 run, shrunk the Raiders’ lead to one point halfway through the quarter.
That’s when Chris Lango took over.
Lango absolutely shot the lights out and erupted for 16 points in the fourth quarter alone while singlehandedly putting the Raiders’ tournament hopes on the pipes. Lango dazzled with an acrobatic three point “and one” with 2:17 remaining in regulation, which at the time gave Roselle a 49-42 lead. The Rams’ sophomore drained four field goals, popped a three-pointer, and shot a perfect five-of-five from the foul line during the fourth quarter. He finished with a game-high of 19 points.
Roselle out-scored Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 21-15, in the fourth quarter. The Rams’ late surge was made possible at the free throw line, where they hit a total of 23 shots for the afternoon.
A pull up jumper from Isaiah Chase with 4:53 left in regulation gave Roselle its first lead of the second half, as Scotch Plains-Fanwood struggled to match its first half intensity coming out of the locker room. The Rams opened up the half on a 10-3 run, and it took the Raiders three minutes before scoring their first points out of halftime.
Once the Raiders finally did score in the third quarter, they didn’t do it enough. A basket each by Drubulis and Laylor were the only Raiders field goals of the quarter. Luckily for SPF, Roselle only notched two field goals during that time, as well.
Roselle actually came within a possession of matching the Raiders late in the first half, but Muench popped consecutive three-pointers 25 seconds apart to give his team a 29-20 advantage entering the break.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood once led by as many as 10 points, and that lead came midway through the second quarter. Justin Guy and Dwight Laylor muscled their way to the basket and created “and one” plays seconds apart, and the Raiders took a 21-11 tilt after Laylor’s.
Before continuing the tournament on Wednesday, Scotch Plains-Fanwood will pay crosstown rival Westfield a visit on Monday night.