RAHWAY, NJ — Any public school not named Linden can only expect to go so far in the Union County boys’ basketball Tournament.
Even for the upper echelon public schools in the county, the ceiling is typically the quarterfinals, given the county’s immense depth of private school powerhouses that compete on a national level. One of four publics remaining, the UCT quarterfinal is where it ends for Scotch Plains-Fanwood, as well.
Though the ninth-seeded Raiders gained some respect and put up a pretty convincing fight in the first half, one-seeded Roselle Catholic proved why it’s the No. 1 team in New Jersey and 22nd overall in the country with a devastating second. During the final 16 minutes, the Raiders suffered a 20-0 run, were outscored 44-17 in total, and didn’t attempt a free throw the entire game en route to a 77-36 loss at neutral site Rahway High School Saturday afternoon.
Now 20-4 on the season, Roselle Catholic, a team loaded with future NCAA Division I and NBA talent, never trailed. The closest Scotch Plains-Fanwood, now 19-5, came was within three points during the second quarter.
Ithiel Horton, a Delaware commit, went off for 21 points — 14 of which came in a 20-0 third quarter run — to lead Roselle Catholic, which advances to play Linden in the semifinal. Khalil Whitney, one of the country's most coveted prospects in the class of 2019 with over 15 DI offers, and Josh Pierre-Louis, a junior and owner of four DI offers, combined for 30 points.
Pushing Roselle Catholic to its limits, a team which has not lost an in state game this year, Scotch Plains-Fanwood impressed many with its competitive first two quarters and only went into halftime trailing 33-19. That must not have sat well with the Lions, because they quickly turned up the intensity in the second with tactics that they use against the best teams on their loaded schedule.
Roselle Catholic opened up the second half on a game changing 20-0 run, with Horton scoring its first 10 points and 14 total during the stretch. Possibly shaken by the Raiders’ offensive success in the first half, the Lions also came out of the locker room in a zone defense — perhaps a compliment, but more of a challenge.
When facing Roselle Catholic’s two-three zone, which slows the game down and limits shooting ability, Scotch Plains-Fanwood hit just three field goals during the third quarter and was outscored, 27-7, in the frame. It took nearly six minutes before a Justin Guy floater accounted for the Raiders’ first points of the half. The zone also contributed to a majority of the Raiders’ 23 total turnovers.
Guy finished with a team-high eight points for Scotch Plains-Fanwood, while Lamont Cruse added seven.
Though looking at the final score doesn’t quite indicate it, there were a few positives for the Raiders on Saturday.
Among all, Scotch Plains-Fanwood trailed just 15-10 after the first quarter — a vast improvement from the 21-7 score after one when both teams met on the same stage last year. The Raiders actually pulled closer on Lamont Cruse’s press break layup, which cut his team’s deficit to 15-12 thirty seconds into the second quarter. However, RC responded and closed out the quarter on a 16-4 run.
Still, the first half showed that the Raiders can run with the best of them.
Not only were the Raiders facing a star-studded Roselle Catholic team, but they were going up against the 22-ranked player in the United States, according to ESPN. Naz Reid, a 6-foot-11 Louisiana State commit who has been suggested as high as an NBA Draft lottery pick, was held to just four points on a pair of field goals by the Raiders bigs — John Petris and Dwight Laylor. It was the second-lowest scoring game of Reid’s high school career, and the “point forward” did play all four quarters.
The game was very competitive from the onset. After Roselle Catholic opened up with a 10-0 lead, Dwight Laylor put in a pair of layups and Tommy Drubulis and Ryan Muench each drained a three-pointer as the Raiders went on a 10-5 run.
Despite moderate success early on, the Raiders struggled shooting the ball for the most part. They shot just 32 percent (15-for-46) from the field and, contested by 6-foot-10 kids all day, were mainly forced to shoot rather than drive.
The next time Scotch Plains-Fanwood suits up, it will be against another team from Roselle, although a much more manageable one. The Raiders host Roselle High School on Friday, which will be Senior Night and the team’s last regular season game.