SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen, and Gov. Livingston was the latest team to run out of the kitchen against the red hot Raiders. Extending their record to 16-1 with a 56-33 victory over the Highlanders Tuesday night, Scotch Plains-Fanwood continued to have the best season in program history.
The turning point of the game came in the second quarter after a stagnant first period that ended in an 8-8 tie. After Gov. Livingston and senior Kevin Keegan (nine points) shot out to a 14-11 lead and captured momentum, Raiders head coach Steve Siracusa called a timeout. His message gave SPFHS inspiration to get their heads back into the game.
“We just told them to give everything they have,” Siracusa said. “Just go all out effort and intensity. I think it showed with our defensive performance. We got a lot of turnovers and that led to a lot of points.”
The Raiders came out blistering after receiving the pep talk from their second year head coach. They finished off the quarter on a 10-3 run, during which junior Jack Brady scored five of his nine total points.
The timeout had an impact on the second quarter and the rest of the game. The Raiders went into the second half and dominated, showing the relentlessness their coach asked of them by outscoring the Highlanders 35-16.
Along with the fierce playing style the Raiders adapted during the game, the offense began to facilitate with more passes instead of pursing the first chance shot they got on every possession.
“We had some open looks at three and sometimes we settled for it,” Siracusa said. “Shooters are going to shoot and we’re going to keep telling them to shoot that. But in the second half we really just tried to work on getting the best shot. It’s not the first one, it’s the best one after a couple passes and they started doing that which let us score a little more.”
The biggest contributor of that second half offense for SPFHS was junior Lamont Cruse. The hard-nosed point guard used his athleticism to erupt into the paint for easy off the glass finger-rolls, even when experiencing contact from the Highlander big men. Cruse also showed he was not a one-trick pony as he could still pull up from the three-point line with ease. He finished the second half with 11 of his 14 points.
Although the Cruse-led offense put up points, the other side of the court displayed why the Raiders are winning 94 percent of their game this season. The Raiders philosophy has been built on defense, and the in-your-face SPFHS defense has been the backbone of the team for their 2016-17 campaign.
“If teams can’t score that much on us, then it’s going to be tough for them to win,” Siracusa said. “We’re going to find ways to score but if they're going to struggle offensively against us, then I’ll take that everyday. We’re going to have off nights offensively but we can’t have an off night defensively.”
The next contest for the Raiders will be Thursday at home against Cranford, while the Highlanders will also be home Thursday against Summit.