UNION – What appeared like a mismatch of sorts at the onset turned into a pretty competitive boys’ basketball game between undefeated teams ranked among the best in the state.
While most fans in attendance expected favored Linden to prove superior for most of the contest’s 32 minutes, underdog Westfield did not go away after falling behind by as many as 17 points very early in the second quarter.
Linden, which led from start to finish, jumped out to a big lead and then surrendered most of it before halftime.
Westfield performed at its best in the second quarter and went into the locker room at intermission confident it could pull off an upset.
However, Linden netted two very quick baskets to start the second half and re-established itself during the very critical opening minutes of the third quarter.
Although Westfield fell behind again by 15 on three occasions in the third quarter and by as many as 19 early in the fourth, the Blue Devils still hung in there and managed to cut the Tiger lead to nine with 39 seconds remaining.
Linden then scored five of the game’s final seven points to clinch a hard-fought 63-51 Union County Conference-crossover clash played at Union High School’s Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium.
Linden improved to 6-0, while Westfield fell to 7-1.
It was the first of two games of the First St. Jude Benefit Basketball Games at UHS. All money raised will be donated directly to the St. Jude Pediatric Cancer Research Hospital.
“We would like to thank all the teams, volunteers and donors for all that they did to make this day a success,” Union head coach Kevin Feeley said. “We would especially like to thank all the businesses and sponsors who generously donated.”
The evening’s second game was also a UCC-crossover contest featuring host Union (4-1), which resides in the Mountain Division, against defending Watchung Division champion Roselle Catholic (4-2).
“This is for a great cause,” said Westfield head coach Daryl Palmieri, who previously coached sub-varsity at Linden for six years. “This was supposed to be our home game, but when we were asked to be a part of this I was more than fine with that.”
“We absolutely wanted to be a part of this and didn’t hestitate when asked,” Linden head coach Phil Colicchio said. “Anything for child research, I’m in.
“We play enough of these events that it’s time to do our part and donate back. As long as they want us we look forward to being here.”
Linden, sparked by a game-high 24-point performance produced by senior forward William Phelps and also double-digit scoring from junior guard Khalief Crawford (15 points) and sophomore guard Tavon Jones (10) saw three players – junior guard Tafari Lowe, Jones and Phelps – hit three baskets to give Linden a 7-0 opening advantage.
Linden led 20-5 after the first eight minutes, with senior Owen Murray scoring all five of Westfield’s points on one field goal and three free throws. Westfield did not score until the 5:16 mark and did not produce its first field goal until 2:22 was left in the first.
Murray finished with 15 points, while the Blue Devils were led offensively by the 17 points poured in by senior guard Parker Hess. Jelanie Pierre – off the bench – added 14 points, including four three-pointers and a very physical, crashing-to-the-boards layup.
The second quarter was a complete 180, with Westfield hitting four of its eventual nine three-point field goals and the Blue Devils slowing down Linden’s rush to the basket. Pierre made three of his four three-pointers and Hess the first of his four in the second quarter to bring Westfield back to a deficit of only four at intermission – 30-26.
After both teams regrouped, that momentum was quickly squelched by Watchung Division opponent Linden as the Tigers quickly – inside the third quarter’s first 45 seconds – scored two baskets, the first inside by Lowe and the second on a steal and layup by junior guard Joey Krempa.
Soon that eight-point lead ballooned to 10 points, then 13 then 15 as Westfield was not as proficient from the field as it was in the second quarter.
“This was really a big regular season win for us,” Colicchio said. “We jumped on them and then we took their best punch and were able to get the lead back up again to 16 (after 19 before that).
“What I liked was that we got contributions from everyone and that our execution was very good against their man and zone. Westfield was feeling good and had momentum at halftime and we were able to stop that in the third quarter.”
Coming off two close wins and a 3-0 record in the Len Sepanak Tournament, Mountain Division squad Westfield actually won two of the four quarters and proved that it could hang tough with as challenging an opponent as it will face this year.
“We knew the toughness that they had and could have packed it in, but that’s the kind of kids we have,” Palmieri said. “The first four minutes of the third quarter we got cold.
“We tried to spread it out and kick the ball out to our guards. We fought, but our execution should have been better. When we make shots we can be tough. This will be a learning experience for us.”
For a big man (6-4) Phelps displayed smoothness at both ends of the court, whether it was grabbing one of his 15 rebounds or setting up for a three-point basket of which he made three. He was strong to the hoop as well.
“He may be the most improved player in the state,” Colicchio said. “Last year he didn’t take it seriously. He went into the weight room and took 500 shots a day. He’s getting there.”
Phelps agreed that getting the team back on track in the third quarter was the turning point for win No. 6.
“We came together as a team,” Phelps said. “Our defensive stops won the game for us, especially in the third quarter. We played the ball well and closed down their shooters.”
Roselle Catholic downed Union 56-35 in the nightcap to improve to 5-2 with its second straight victory. Union had a three-game winning streak snapped and fell to 4-2.
Union led 13-10 after the first eight minutes before Roselle Catholic came back to win the second quarter 19-6 and the third 21-7.
FIRST ST. JUDE CLASSIC BENEFIT BASKETBALL GAMES
AT UNION HIGH SCHOOL’S LOUIS J. RETTINO GYMNASIUM
LINDEN (6-0) 20 10 18 15 – 63
WESTFIELD (7-1) 05 21 07 18 – 51
LINDEN TIGERS (63):
13-Tavon Jones (6-1), sophomore guard, 4-0-2-10
1-Khalief Crawford (6-0), junior guard, 3-1-6-15
3-Joey Krempa (5-11), junior guard, 2-0-0-4
20-William Phelps (6-4), senior forward, 6-3-3-24
10-Tafari Lowe (6-3, junior guard, 3-0-2-8
2-Fritz Moncion (6-4), senior forward, 1-0-0-2
REMAINDER OF ROSTER:
30-DeAndre Clark (6-0), senior guard
14-Josiah King (6-0), senior guard
12-Abraham Kromah (5-11), junior guard
35-Derrick Lewis (6-4), junior center
4-Marcellus Livingston (6-0), junior guard
15-Kyree Rogers (6-0), junior guard
23-Reginald Winston (5-11), junior guard
34-Robert Gaudenzi (6-3), sophomore forward
25-Luis Rodriguez (5-11), sophomore guard
Starters: Phelps, Crawford,
Krempa, Lowe, Jones.
Head coach: Phil Colicchio
WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS (51):
15-Owen Murray (6-4), senior guard, 6-0-3-15
12-Parker Hess (6-0), senior guard, 2-4-1-17
11-Jelani Pierre (5-10, senior guard, 1-4-0-14
2-Matt LaCorte (6-2), junior forward, 0-1-0-3
23-Nick Mele (5-11), senior guard, 1-0-0-2
1-Tim Norris (6-3), senior center, 0-0-0-0
REMAINDER OF ROSTER:
10-Justice Bowers (5-8), senior guard
3-Marius Chenekan (5-9), senior guard
13-Nick Lawrie (5-8), senior guard
21-Andreis Rumpeters (6-5), senior center
14-Jeffrey Gagum (6-1), junior forward
22-Phil Martini (6-1), junior guard
35-Tristan Quallis (5-9), junior guard
33-Kevin Reinhard (5-10), junior guard
42-Phil Zanfagna (6-2), junior forward
32-Adam McDaniel (5-10), sophomore guard
Starters: Hess, Mele,
Murray, Norris, LaCorte.
Head coach: Daryl Palmieri
ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS:
13-Matt Bullock (6-4), senior guard-forward
20-Morgan Hilton (6-1), senior guard-forward
33-Peace Liegomah (6-10), senior center
24-Wiktor Sewiol (6-5), senior guard-forward
10-Raheem Carter (6-4) junior forward
22-Trajan Chapman (6-3), junior guard-forward
11-Gilberto Cue (5-10), junior guard
12-Myles McCoy (5-10), junior guard
1-Michael Moody (6-2), junior guard
0-Nathaniel Pierre-Louis (6-3), junior guard
2-Andre Rafus (6-9), junior forward
3-Leondre Washington (5-10), junior guard
4-Yasin Pretlow (5-10), sophomore guard
5-Nazeron Reid (6-9), sophomore forward
Head coach: Dave Boff
1-James Battle (5-11), senior guard
14-Joshua Crosky (6-5), senior forward
13-Matthew Lajeunesse (6-5), senior center
11-Isaiah Richardson (6-2), senior forward
22-Pat Thomas (6-2), senior forward
15-Justin Beckett (5-8), junior guard
13-Hansley Censcar (5-10), junior guard
4-Ryan Dolce (5-9), junior guard
2-Corey Thelisme (6-1), junior guard-forward
10-Jason Battle (5-7), sophomore guard
12-Ithiel Horton (6-2), sophomore guard-forward
21-Jabri Lateef (6-3), sophomore forward
15-Deandre MacFarlane (6-0), sophomore guard
Head coach: Kevin Feeley