UNION, NJ- The Union High School Farmers found themselves trailing by a score of 37-35 after the third quarter of a close game and found a way to come back and regain control during the final eight minutes of action. They outscored the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders boys varsity basketball team 23-10 in the fourth quarter to capture a 58-47 win Sunday afternoon at Kean University, part of the Eric LeGrand Classic.
As the game got underway, Union was in full control in the opening minutes of the game, leading by as much as 13-2, with senior Derryen Whyte contributing six points in the quarter and senior Jabri Lateef adding five points. They would carry a 13-6 lead after the first eight minutes of play.
In the second quarter, Union held a 20-13 lead over Johnson with 3:33 left, but Johnson would make a major push to get back in the game. Senior George Visconti connected on two free throws and junior Brandon Hund buried a shot to cut the lead to 20-17.
Union senior DeAndrae MacFarlane and Visconti traded three-point shots and Union’s lead was 23-20 with 1:00 left in the second quarter. Lateef buried a basket that made the score 25-20 Farmers. Visconti cut the lead to 25-22 with a basket, before a major defensive move by the Crusaders.
Hund broke up a Union pass and sped to the basket for a chance at points before halftime. He connected for the basket and was fouled. Although he missed the free throw, he sent his team into halftime only trailing by a score of 25-24.
The Crusaders got off to a quick start in the third quarter. Junior Brenden Kelly gave Johnson a 27-25 lead and senior Jeff Drajin increased the lead to 29-25, prompting Union to call a timeout. The game went back-and-forth, with Union tying the game at 29-29, with baskets coming from Lateef and Eboh trading shots.
“Our coach told us not to give up,” MacFarlane said. “We know basketball is a game of swings, so we know [Johnson] could go up six [points] and we’re going to come down and do the same thing.”
Union led Johnson 33-31 with 3:04 left, before Kelly drained his second three-point basket to give Johnson a 34-33 lead. Kelly drained his third three-point basket of the quarter to give Johnson a 37-35 lead after the third quarter.
Johnson held a 40-39 lead with 6:34 left in the fourth quarter, before Union senior Chimdi Eboh drained a three-point shot to give his team a 42-40 lead. The Farmers then received another three-point shot, this time, from senior Marvellous Akingbala to push the lead to 45-40 Union, after getting another defensive stop.
“Coach [Feeley] was telling us that we are still in the game, it’s not over,” Whyte said. “We kept working hard, we trusted our guys.”
Union received 31 points combined from all their players who were on the bench.
“Our bench came in, played strong and ended up getting the lead and winning the game,” Whyte added.
Johnson trimmed the deficit down to 45-42, before Union went on a 9-0 scoring run to build their lead to 54-42 with 1:10 left in the fourth quarter. The offensive charge within that Union scoring run was led by Whyte and MacFarlane.
“We just tried to wear [Johnson] down. We knew we had to play deeper,” Union head coach Kevin Feeley said. “They’re a good team. [George Visconti] and [Brenden Kelly] are good players and other guys made plays against us.”
With the Crusaders not connecting on their chances to score, the Farmers continued to gain possession of the basketball and found chances to build their lead.
“Towards the end, [Union] got some easy looks and that wasn’t helping us out,” Visconti said. “On offense, we weren’t getting quality looks like we were in the first half. We were taking some poor shots, so it was a complete change in tempo that was in their favor.”
In total, the Farmers outscored the Crusaders 19-7 after trailing 40-39 to capture the victory. Whyte finished with 14 points, while Lateef tallied 13 points for the Farmers in the win. Junior Val Julien added ten points off the bench.
“Our guys stayed with the plan and grinded on them and eventually wore them down,” Feeley said. “They missed some shots they were making in the first half and we made some shots in the second half.”
In the loss, Kelly had 18 points for the Crusaders. Visconti scored 13 points for the Crusaders, while Drajin tallied eight points. Hund had seven points for the Crusaders.
“Union did a better job of offense on the floor and the environment better than we did,” Johnson head coach Dave Kennedy said. “We were able to come back and we weren’t able to maintain. Give them credit, they made some big plays at the end.”
The Johnson Crusaders (5-3) head out on the road and will play at David Brearley HS (Kenilworth) Tuesday night with the time to be determined.
The Union Farmers (6-5) will return home and take on Union Catholic HS in a home game Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m.