UNION — The situation was one that Union has found itself in countless times this winter.
Again, the scrappy Farmers were mired in a tight, one-possession game for most of the afternoon on Sunday against New Providence. And for a team that has begun to shock the state with its roaring start to the season, it is no surprise that the Farmers were once again able to find a way to pull it out.
Stenley Joseph hit a corner three-pointer with 1:06 remaining in the fourth quarter to pull Union ahead, 56-54, and the Farmers would hold on by that score to defeat New Providence — a defending Group 1 state champion — Sunday afternoon in the first of five showcase games at the prestigious Hearts to Hands Invitational at Kean University’s Harwood Arena. Joseph finished with nine points, all on three-pointers, while Jakin Edmond led the way for the Farmers with 14 points and Andrew Sanborn also scored nine for Union, which saw 10 total players notch at least one field goal.
Union is now 8-2 and currently sits in second place — dictated by power points — in its North 2, Group 4 section. With only six games remaining before the power point cutoff (power point total through first 16 games), Union is putting itself in great position to not only play in some serious games come late February/early March, but do so on their home court.
After a 29-win, state championship season last winter, New Providence — which graduated all but one starter from that team — sinks to 1-7 on the year. But don’t let that record be deceiving — the Pioneers, like Union, have been mired in a host of close games and possess one of the top guards in the county in senior Sean Dillon, Jr., who dropped 20 points on seven assists, five rebounds, and four steals Sunday. Teammate Carsten Schumm recorded a double-double with 16 points and 17 rebounds, as well.
And, in fact, there were instances late in the game on Sunday where it looked as though upset-minded New Providence was going to hand Union its third-straight loss of four points or less.
After a tightly-contested first half, the Farmers went into the locker room trailing, 30-28, after Dillon hit a mid-range jumper to sever a 28-28 deadlock that Sanborn created when he drained his first of three three-pointers in the game. New Providence had erased Union’s one-point first quarter lead by outscoring the Farmers, 19-16, in the second frame, and Union was in need of a spark.
That spark came late in the third quarter, when yet again, Sanborn came off the bench and showed his clutch genetics that have been on full display this year — first on the football field this fall, and now on the hardwood this winter. The senior guard knocked down a pair of consecutive threes to erase a one-point deficit and give the Farmers a 42-37 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
Despite Union’s five-point advantage with eight minutes left in the game, New Providence clawed all the way back and eventually took a 52-51 lead on a deft classic three-point play — first a layup, foul, and foul shot — by Dillon, Jr., with just over two minutes left to play. Union responded and took the lead back on a mid-range jumper from Edmond to make it 53-52 with 2:08 left, but New Providence once again answered and quickly jumped back ahead, 54-53, with under two minutes remaining on the clock.
But again, the battle-tested Farmers were up to the task, and took the lead for good when Joseph, with just enough open space from his defender, drained the go-ahead three from the left corner to make it the deciding 56-54 with 1:06 remaining. New Providence did hold the final possession, but Dillon, Jr.'s, three point attempt as time expired rimmed out.
After a three-point loss to Westfield -- the Farmers' first defeat of the season -- on Tuesday, and a four-point heartbreaker to Union Catholic on Thursday, it was important for Union to get back in the win column ahead of a grueling upcoming schedule. The Farmers will look to avenge that loss to Westfield in a re-match Tuesday, then host a strong Linden team on Thursday, and square off against powerhouse St. Peter's Prep in the second installment of the Hearts to Hands on the 26th. Union will then host Union Catholic on the 28th and juggernaut Elizabeth -- currently ranked No. 3 in the state per NJ Advance Media -- on the 30th.