EDISON, NJ -- South Brunswick played its very best brand of uptempo basketball in the second quarter, then withstood Carteret's best punch in the third quarter.
Senior swingman Justin Carbone scored 24 points and collected five rebounds, and senior forward Devin Strickland finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and three assists to lead the fourth-seeded Vikings to a 71-61 victory over fifth-seeded Carteret in the quarterfinal round of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament Sunday afternoon at Middlesex County College.
South Brunswick (20-4), which has won eight in a row, will play top-seeded St. Joseph of Metuchen in the GMC semifinals Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at New Brunswick High School. South Brunswick split two regular-season games with the Falcons, beating them, 82-67, on Feb. 8.
South Brunswick got through the first quarter Sunday with a 16-15 lead without getting its preferred transition game in high gear yet. The second quarter was a different story.
After Carteret (18-7) went ahead, 17-16, with the first basket of the quarter, the Vikings turned on the afterburners. Once Strickland hit a layup for an 18-17 lead, South Brunswick went into its frequently devastating halfcourt trapping defense--a weapon that's always lurking in the back of opponents' minds, like a storm brewing on the horizon.
Strickland's basket ignited a 16-0 run for the Vikings, with Carbone scoring eight points (on two 3-pointers and a follow shot) and Strickland five in the spree. The highlight of the run was a Carbone 3-pointer from the right side of the arc to cap a sequence in which all five Vikings touched the ball, quickly working it around and twice passing up easily makeable shots to work for an even better shot. Strickland passed up a shot to feed Carbone on the perimeter for the trey that made the score 29-17. Before Carteret finally scored to end the firestorm, South Brunswick had a 32-17 lead with 3:16 left in the half.
"We like to play fast," South Brunswick head coach Joe Hoehman said. "When we see an opportunity to run and jump, we're gonna do it. When you fly around, good things happen."
The unselfish nature of this South Brunswick team also was evidenced Sunday by seven players contributing at least one assist, with Yathin Vemula leading the way with six and Akhil Edekar and Tyrell Murchison each passing for five assists. Edekar also came up with seven steals, and Murchison had 11 points and four rebounds.
"Edekar played well," Hoehman said. "He was flying around all over the place, and he had a couple of rebounds for us.
"Our point guard, Vemula, has grown into the position and he's really able to push the ball now the way we want him to," Hoehman said. "The kid is quick, and he has been a huge boost to us. He's a good shooter who doesn't care how much he scores. He said, 'I'm just playing my role right now'."
South Brunswick built a lead as large as 24 points, 54-30, in the third quarter. After that, the Vikings ended up facing a severe test of character, as Carteret staged an impressive sustained rally, outscoring South Brunswick, 22-4, closing to within six, 58-52, with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter.
"We've got four seniors, three of whom have played together for three years," Hoehman said. "They went through their growing pains then (when South Brunswick went 1-18 two seasons ago), and now, these guys showed what kind of composure they have down the stretch of a game like this."
Murchison, who missed his first five shots before making four of his last seven, ended a two-minute stretch when the score was stuck on 58-52 by scoring at the end of a fastbreak to trigger an 8-2 South Brunswick run that put the game out of Carteret's reach.
South Brunswick finished at 50 percent from the floor, hitting 29 of 58 shots. Strickland, a force on the break and in the paint, was 10-for-16. Carbone, who sank four 3-pointers, was 9-for-19.
The Vikings, undersized up front (although long in the backcourt), battled the Ramblers to a draw on the boards, with Carteret getting 28 rebounds to South Brunswick's 27.