RARITAN TWP. - With victories in its first six contests this season, Hunterdon Central High School's boys basketball team has generated plenty of enthusiasm at school.
That was in full evidence last night when hordes of red-clad students, on their feet for the game’s duration, jammed into the bleachers behind the Red Devils’ bench as a “Sixth Man” factor for the Skyland Conference matchup with Immaculata.
It just took them – and the Red Devils – a little time to get warmed up before the home squad grabbed command late in the third quarter and went on to post a 78-66 triumph in the HCHS field house.
“A few of the guys have tried to rally some of the students,” said Central Head Coach Mike Falco, “and it’s been great for the players just to get some energy in this place. I hope we can keep it rolling.
“The fact we’ve had a nice start helps and they seem to be enjoying themselves, so we thank the students for coming out and supporting us and I know the guys appreciate it. It’s been fun.”
Once they got into gear, the Devils had a lot of fun against an opponent they split two games with last winter.
On this particular occasion, and with 6-foot-8 center Chad Dreswick getting into first-half foul trouble which sent him to the bench, the guards supplied most of the firepower.
Tucker Richardson, a 6-3 junior, led the way with 23 points, including five shots from three-point territory. Senior Colin McNeil added 20 points and classmate Cole Hanntz chipped in 17.
“All of our guards are different in some ways,” said Falco, “but they all excel in this type of game with that attacking mentality defensively and offensively, always trying to put pressure on the other team.”
But the Spartans didn’t succumb easily, handling Central’s intense man-to-man defense fairly effectively and facing just a 32-28 deficit at the halftime break.
The visitors from Somerville still hung tough most of the third period until the Devils closed the stanza with a 15-4 tear to extend their margin to 59-44.
“They really beat us up on the glass,” said Falco, “and if you’re not getting stops on the defensive end, it’s a lot harder to get out and run, so that made it tougher for us. They were able to force their will on us. I thought we were a step slow and Immaculata outworked us. It seemed like they got every loose ball.”
Hunterdon Central, which canned just 12 of 29 field goal attempts in the opening half, was a sizzling 11 for 16 during the third quarter against the Spartans’ 1-2-2 zone defense. McNeil had nine points and Richardson eight, including a 30-foot heave which swished through the net at the buzzer.
“Their zone slopes down a bit and we got a little rhythm there, and started to attack it better instead of just being passive,” said Falco. “I thought Colin and Tucker were able to find the lane a little bit and then we knocked down some shots. Sometimes it just comes down to shot-making.
“We had some good looks and started knocking them down. I tell the guys it’s a 32-minute game and we’re going to have a spurt at some point. It’s going to happen.”
Immaculata, however, shifted to man-to-man early in the final period and doggedly battled to stay in contention.
Brandon Yu’s shot from the lane cut the Devils’ lead to 65-57 with 4:24 remaining. But Richardson then retaliated with a three-pointer, Hanntz hit a layup off a Spartan turnover and soon scored on a fast-break layup for a 72-57 cushion at the 3:15 mark. Immaculata never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Max Johnson contributed eight points for Central, which finished the game at 30 for 62 from the floor. Immaculata committed 22 turnovers, which the Devils converted into 23 points. In contrast, HCHS was guilty of a mere six turnovers, an unusually low number at any level of the sport.
“Wow, that’s great,” said Falco when informed of the latter figure. “I haven’t seen that number for us in a long time. Usually, it’s double digits. We’ll take it.”
Along with another victory.