WESTFIELD — Two years ago, when Westfield last hosted Scotch Plains-Fanwood, the Blue Devils drilled their neighboring rivals in a 34-point route. Westfield would go onto win their conference and 18 games that year, while the Raiders endured a painfully long 3-22 season.
But Monday, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, now the owner of 18 wins this year, was the power team, while Westfield closed out a trying season in which it finished with just five wins.
The Raiders executed on all ends and took home a big 65-50 win over the Blue Devils Monday night in front of a playoff-like atmosphere at Westfield — though only Scotch Plains-Fanwood will be playing postseason basketball this year.
Lamont Cruse dropped a team-high 17 points while Brady added 12 to pace the Raiders, who opened up the game on a scintillating 12-1 run and closed it on a 22-12 one, trailing just once the entire game. Westfield, which celebrated senior night, was led by senior Adam McDaniel’s game-high 19 points.
Nine of Cruse’s 17 points came at the foul line during the fourth quarter, which Scotch Plains-Fanwood entered with just a five point lead after Westfield had fought back on a 16-4 third quarter run. The Raiders outscored the Blue Devils, 20-10, in the overpowering frame and received 17 total foul shots during the eight minute period.
Westfield made a fourth quarter push when Mark Natiello recovered a steal and came sprinting down court, looking to make it a one possession game. But athletic Dwight Laylor trailed him, and with two hands, pinned Natiello's layup off the glass with 6:35 left.
Jay Williams gathered the rebound and threw a long pass to an open Jack Brady on the opposite end of the court. Brady caught the ball just before the baseline, dished out a no look behind the back dime to a charging Laylor, who caught it, dunked over two Westfield defenders on the same move, and sent the gym into a fit of hysteria with his rim rattling slam.
That was the dagger, as the game stayed at multiple possessions after the stunning sequence.
Arguably, the game was decided at the foul line. The Raiders shot a stunning 28-for-35 (80 percent) from the charity stripe, while Westfield hit just 8-of-18 free throws (44 percent). When Westfield battled back and took a once 38-36 lead during the third quarter, the line is where the Raiders were able to claim the lead back by. They hit 22 second half free throws despite draining just four total field goals over the last two quarters.
Though Scotch Plains-Fanwood took a commanding 22-12 lead into halftime, a Westfield team that plays one of the toughest schedules in New Jersey responded with a 16-4 run out of the break. McDaniel hit consecutive threes 30 seconds apart, the second of which tied the game at 36. 24 seconds later, Matt Crowley banked layup with 3:06 left in the quarter, which put Westfield ahead, 38-36.
That would be the only time Westfield led all night, as a minute later, Brady was fouled in the process of a layup and hit both shots. Those free throws gave the Raiders a 40-38 advantage, and they'd never look back.
Westfield's run midway through the game could've been a lot more damaging if it weren't for the Raiders' thunderous opening, which gave them all the momentum. Brady opened the game with a three-pointer to kick start a 12-1 run by the Raiders. SPF's air tight defense held Westfield without a field goal for the game's first six minutes, and by that time, the Raiders had already built a double digit advantage.
At the end of the opening quarter, the Raiders opened up a 15-5 lead. However, that was quickly challenged by a battle tested Westfield squad.
McDaniel cut the Raiders’ lead to 19-16 with a pull-up three two minutes into the second quarter. But as they continuously did all evening, Scotch Plains-Fanwood answered quickly and strongly — this time, it was a 13-3 run that further separated the Raiders. The overwhelming stretch was highlighted by Jay Williams’ coast-to-coast “jelly” layup, which gave his team a 32-19 lead with 1:30 left before halftime.