ELIZABETH – With the game and a trip to Rutgers to play in the Group 4 state championship contest on the line, it seemed as if the team that played the best in the fourth quarter was going to win Wednesday night’s Group 4 semifinal at the Dunn Center.
Underdog Paterson Eastside was clinging to a precarious one-point lead heading into the final eight minutes and did not want to allow any continued momentum by the favorite, Linden, after senior guard Otis Livingston closed the third quarter scoring with a 3-point hoop that pulled the Tigers back to within one.
So the Ghosts of Passaic County came out with a flourish to start the fourth quarter, with three different players scoring to produce a quick 7-0 run that built their lead up to eight for the first time.
Following a 3-point bucket by Al-Juma Johnson and a layup by Nhazir Smith, senior forward Shakur Juiston hit two free throws as Paterson Eastside began to get some true separation on the scoreboard for the first time.
“We matched their intensity and in the fourth quarter got it done,” said Juiston, who finished with 14 points to help spark Paterson Eastside to a convincing 58-51 win over Linden.
Paterson Eastside outscored Linden 26-20 in the all-important fourth quarter as the Ghosts downed the Tigers in this settting for the second time in the past five seasons.
North 1 champion Paterson Eastside (24-6) moves on to Sunday’s Group 4 final at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway against South Jersey, Group 4 champion Cherry Hill East, which defeated Central Jersey, Group 4 champ Hillsborough 65-42 in Wednesday night’s other Group 4 semifinal, which was played at Egg Harbor Township.
Repeat North 2 champion Linden, which had a seven-game winning streak snapped and fell to 22-7, concluded another fine season that included the program’s first county championship in eight years. Linden is also the only in-state and public school squad to defeat Roselle Catholic this season, going 2-1 against the Lions, who reached the Non-Public, B state championship game for the third consecutive year.
Linden was attempting to reach its third straight Group 4 state championship game. Under head coach Phil Colicchio, the Tigers are now 5-2 in Group 4 semifinal games, with both losses to Paterson Eastside. The first was in 2011 at the Dunn Center. In last year’s same setting at Dunn, Linden defeated Paterson Eastside en route to its fourth Group 4 state championship since 2000.
At 18-12 following a 13-4 run that concluded with Livingston’s second of a game-high four 3s, it appeared that Linden was on its way to separation at the point in the game, which was early in the second quarter.
However, Paterson Eastside quickly responded with an 8-0 run to take a 20-18 lead. Following the game’s fourth and final tie of 20-20, the Ghosts took the lead for good at 22-20 on a layup from guard Aaryn Abrams, who finished with 11 points.
Asem Johnson paced Paterson Eastside with 15 points, 10 of them coming in the second half.
Livingston, in his final high school game, led all scorers with 18 points, while fellow senior teammate Josh Carter produced 16.
Linden shot poorly in the second quarter and could not get into any kind of rhythm offensively, with many possessions consisting of just one field goal attempt.
Although this was not vintage Linden basketball, the Tigers were still down by only two at the half and by only one after three quarters.
After falling behind by as many as nine points on two occasions in the fourth quarter, Linden still managed to get the game to three points at 51-48 following a 3-pointer senior Juwan Dolbrice hit with 34 seconds remaining.
Linden had to foul at that point, with Paterson Eastside going to the line and making seven of its last eight free throw attempts to seal the victory.
Linden combated a taller lineup once again and stayed in the game until the very end. It was a matter of Paterson Eastside making the most of its opportunities and staying hungry until the final buzzer.
“Any team can come out and get beat,” Juiston said. “Last year was a tough, tough loss and that motivated us.”
Quinton Dixon came off the bench to provide a physical presence spark for Linden. Unfortunately for Linden he could not get into a groove shooting the ball from the outside and finished with just two points, both on free throws.
“We couldn’t let Otis shoot and we had to take No. 35 (Dixon) out of the game, which we did,” Juiston said. “When the fourth quarter started we had to continue to crash the boards, play hard and increase our intensity.”
GROUP 4 SEMIFINAL AT DUNN SPORT CENTER
LINDEN (22-7) 15 8 8 20 – 51
PATERSON EASTIDE (24-6) 12 13 7 26 – 58
LINDEN TIGERS (51):
3-Otis Livingston, 2-4-2-18
1-Juwan Dolbrice 0-1-2-5
2-Josh Carter, 3-1-7-16
4-James Julius, 0-1-3-6
35-Quinton Dixon, 0-0-2-2
15-Khalief Crawford 1-0-1-3
30-William Phelps, 0-0-1-1
20-Fritz Moncion, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Livingston, Dolbrice,
Carter, Crawford, Moncion.
PATERSON EASTSIDE GHOSTS (58):
1-Nhazir Smith, 1-0-3-5
3-Asem Johnson, 3-1-6-15
23-Marquel Sheffield, 0-0-2-2
2-Aaryn Abrams, 3-0-5-11
11-Al-Juma Johnson, 0-2-0-6
12-Terra Gatling, 1-0-0-2
4-Marlon Ebanks, 0-1-0-3
10-Shakur Juiston, 5-0-4-14
Starters: Johnson, Juiston,
Smith, Gatling, Abrams.