PLANIFIELD — After losing a considerable amount of seniors to graduation last June, Union boys’ basketball head coach Kevin Feeley knew that his team was going to be young this year and because of that, was not concerned about what his Farmers’ record may be. Instead, Feeley has his focus set on the daily improvement and growth of his squad.
And yet, despite its youth and growing pains that are evident throughout the course of some games, Union has turned in its best start to a season in over two decades.
After a thrilling final-second win, 66-65, against highly-regarded Hackensack at the Kayla Spooner Memorial Showcase in Plainfield Saturday, Union is now a perfect 7-0 to start the season. Ronn Flood’s rebound and layup sequence from the baseline with 0.6 seconds in the game put the Farmers ahead for good in a wild back-and-forth affair with the Comets, who are one of North Jersey’s premier public school squads. That shot also gave Union its best record to start a season since 1999.
“We talked in the beginning of the year: I’m not concerned about the record with these kids; I’m concerned about them getting better because we’re young and we make some young mistakes at times,” Feeley told TAPinto Union. “It’s just one of these things where it just happened that we’ve won all our games. Honestly, I talked to them from Day One, even after the first weekend, we could be 0-2 or 2-0 — I don’t really care. I’m just concerned with what we’re doing. It’s just a testament to them that they’re going out and working hard everyday.”
Flood had the most important bucket of the game and finished with 11 points. Jakin Edmond led all scorers with 16 points — seven of which came in the fourth quarter — on five field goals with a three-pointer. Andrew Sanborn also added double-digit scoring with 10 points, scoring seven of them in the first frame.
Nine total Farmers contributed at least one bucket Saturday, displaying the underlying strength that has benefited Union all season. There is no clear-cut star running the show for Feeley’s squad, but rather, an equal distribution up and down the roster. The Farmers’ rotation features virtually everyone on the team, and so far, that formula has proven successful.
“That’s who we are,” Feeley said. “We don’t have “the guy”. But what we do have is 10, 11 guys that may play every single day, and they have to come in ready because they don’t know. Certain games are sometimes geared towards other people, and other games are geared towards them. It’s one of these things where every guy expects to play, but every guy, when they don’t play, don’t sulk about it — they’re just happy the team’s being successful. It’s real, real team, and that’s fun to coach.”
Averaging 64.4 points-per-game on offense, Union kept up its pace out of the gate and put up 21 points in the first quarter, 14 of which came from Sanborn and Edmond. Hackensack, however, is also extremely potent on offense and dropped 24 in the opening frame to take a 24-21 lead.
The Farmers then outscored the Comets, 13-11, in the second to cut the deficit to one (35-34) at halftime.
The game then virtually remained a one-possession, back-and-forth tilt the rest of the way, as Union took a 50-48 lead into the fourth quarter, only to see it disappear to a 65-64 deficit in the final seconds. But you had a sense that this one would come down to who had the final possession, and the Farmers were fortunate to have just that.
As the final seconds ticked away, Gavin Barrett dropped his defender from the top of the key, drove the lane, and attempted an acrobatic layup through two defenders. The ball bounced off the bottom of the glass, but there to recover it along the left side of the baseline was Flood, who then put it back with 0.6 remaining.
Hackensack was able to get a shot away off the inbounds, but to no avail.
“We just fought to the end and got the win,” Edmond said. “They’re actually a really good team. Number 0 [Hackensack’s Seth Sharif-Brown], I give credit to him, because he’s actually a really good player.”
“We always say, we have to go what we have to do so we can get everybody in the game, and that’s exactly what we did today,” Edmond added about the complete team contribution.
Hackensack (5-2) was led by Shawn Reckley, who dropped 16 points, though Union limited him to just two in the second half — and none in the fourth quarter. Amire Walker scored 15 points, Sharif-Brown had 13, and Cameron Taylor added 12 for the Comets.
Hackensack competes in North Jersey Section 1, Group 4, while Union is Section 2, Group 4. However, while the season is still young, both teams have emerged as upper-echelon squads in their sections. It certainly looked that way Saturday.
“It’s one of those things where it was a back-and-forth game all day,” Feeley said. “It was just an enjoyable high school basketball game. Both teams played really hard. Basically, it was I thought whoever had the last possession was going to win the game. Luckily it happened that we had it.
“I would think that this year, either them, Plainfield, or Carteret are the best teams we’ve seen. They’re really good. Probably one of the best teams in North 1.”
After an opening day thriller over talented Plainfield in double overtime, Union has yet to let up. The Farmers followed up that victory with a 13-point triumph over Columbia (which just upset state-ranked and defending Group 4 state champ Newark East Side Friday), then over winter break, defeated Freehold Borough, Matawan, and Carteret to win Matawan’s Husky Invitational tournament. Union also trounced conference foe Scotch Plains-Fanwood less than 24 hours before Saturday morning’s victory.
Hackensack (5-2) is perhaps the most impressive team that Union has beaten so far, and the Farmers are now oozing with confidence as they head into the thick of their upcoming schedule. With powers such as Elizabeth, Linden, Roselle Catholic, St. Peter’s Prep, and Seton Hall Prep on the slate, Union has its work cut out over the next two months
“We can go toe-to-toe with anyone, I feel like,” Edmond said. “I felt like that in the beginning of the season, and now I really feel it. We’re very confident that we can go toe-to-toe with anyone.”