WESTFIELD — Quite the opposite style of game was played Friday night compared to the last time Westfield and Union Catholic met, though a similar outcome was yielded by the two divisional foes.
After battling in a tight defensive battle on Jan. 12, Westfield and its Union County Conference Mountain Division counterpart met again on Friday with both teams running the floor and scoring early and often. Though the Blue Devils held plenty of leads and put forth a late rally, the Vikings ultimately pulled ahead and remained that way after a 35-35 tie at halftime, claiming a 71-61 victory in Westfield.
While Adam McDaniel dropped a game-high 22 points and Matt Crowley added 19 for Westfield, Rob Miller, Ibn Lynn, and Justin Archer scored 19, 18, and 17, respectively, to lead Union Catholic. The Vikings were also boosted at the free throw line, where they outshot Westfield, 20-4.
Though Westfield is much stronger than its record would indicate, the Blue Devils fall to 3-13 with Friday’s loss.
Mired in a 35-35 deadlock after an eventful first half, Union Catholic opened up the third quarter on a 13-3 run and Westfield was never quite able to recover. During the overpowering stretch, Miller scored eight of Union Catholic’s points, including a three-pointer with 5:41 remaining to give his team a 41-38 lead, and from that point on, the Vikings would never trail again.
Though Union Catholic never relented the lead from that point, it didn’t mean Westfield wasn’t going away without a fight.
The Blue Devils fell behind by as many as 11 points before mounting a fourth quarter rally led by McDaniel and Mark Natiello that was nearly completed. In just over two minutes time, Westfield turned a four possession deficit into a two possession one on a pair of three-pointers from McDaniel’s hot hand, and pulled within four points of their neighboring rivals on Natiello’s two-point field goal with 1:31 left to play. Natiello again came up clutch 53 seconds later when he swished a three ball, again making it a four point game (65-61).
In an attempt to coax a turnover and pull even closer, Westfield went to a full court press after Natielo’s late three. Union Catholic was able to break it on three occasions, and Justin Archer put the game on ice when he tossed down two thunderous breakaway dunks and added a layup, all during the game’s final 35 seconds.
Archer took over the game late and scored 13 of his 17 total points in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils’ largest lead of the night was five points, and it came 35 seconds into the second half. On the final bucket of a 7-0 Westfield run, McDaniel connected on a two-point field goal which gave his team a 20-15 lead at the time. Crowley hit his first and only three-pointer of the game 20 seconds earlier and opened the run on a first quarter buzzer beater. Westfield’s first true run marked the first time the game’s score exceeded a single possession.
McDaniel went on to knock down a total of four shots from the three-point line and matched a career-high with his 22 points. The senior is now averaging 11.2 points-per-game this season.
Crowley added two more buckets during the final minute of the opening half, including a highlight reel “jelly” layup in transition off of a steal with 20 seconds remaining. The layup gave Westfield a 35-33 lead, only to be equalized by the Vikings on Isiah Hill’s buzzer beater.
A junior, Crowley netted 13 points alone in the first half, however, the Vikings’ Ibn Lynn also had a dominant opening 16 minutes and had 15 points by the time both teams entered the locker room.
Before Westfield went on its minute run midway through the opening half, both teams were within a possession of each other during the first quarter. Lynn drained a trifecta of three-pointers to account for 12 of Union Catholic’s 15 points, but Westfield came out hot as well and matched the Vikings’ 15 points.
Westfield was sent to the to foul line just twice — though it shot a perfect 4-for-4 — while Union Catholic was at the stripe a startling 15 times and hit 20 shots. Coincidentally or not, last night the Vikings outshot Scotch Plains-Fanwood 18-3.
It’s a quick turnaround for Westfield, which hosts Hillsborough Saturday night at 7 p.m. Union Catholic next hits the court against defending Tournament of Champions winner, The Patrick School, on Monday.