RAHWAY – Luke Valerano took it upon himself to make sure Colonia was not headed to overtime for a second straight state tournament contest.
So after Rahway senior Keyshawn Cummings tied the game for the fifth and final time – and for the first time since late in the second quarter – with a free throw with 15.1 seconds left, Valerano decided to take the game into his own hands.
Underneath the Rahway basket, Valerano took one pass from teammate Frank Lehman and then just dribbled full force to the basket. He was able to put up a shot in the lane that went in with three seconds to go.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything,” Valerano said. “I had full confidence that I could drive and put a shot up.”
Rahway got the ball back in and junior Zion Pendleton’s shot from between half court and the 3-point line fell short.
Colonia, which led by 12 going into the fourth quarter, saw its lead evaporate, but was still able to come back and stun the host Indians.
Eighth-seeded Colonia, which improved to 17-9, defeated top-seeded Rahway 51-49 in a highly-dramatic, quite-thrilling North 2, Group 3 boys’ basketball quarterfinal played Wednesday night at Rahway’s Earl H. Walter Gymnasium.
As a result, Colonia moves on to the semifinals at fifth-seeded Irvington Friday.
For the third straight season Rahway lost a heartbreaking game in this section, the past two years falling in the semifinals.
Still, Rahway produced a fine season, finishing 23-4, which included a perfect 12-0 league record for a third consecutive Union County Conference-Valley Division championship.
However, right now, that is no consolation for the Indians, who sought to reach the final this time and then win N2, G3 for the first time since 1996.
Both teams played their hearts out and left everything they had on the court.
Valerano, a junior in his second season at Colonia after playing at St. Joseph’s, Metuchen his freshman year, led all scorers with a superb 21-point performance.
“We had to stay poised and focused,” Valerano said. “It came down to playing Colonia basketball and putting it in our mind that defense is first.”
“Luke is a tough kid, who listens and plays hard,” Colonia head coach Brandon Hall said.
Cummings, who this season became the 11th player in Rahway history to reach and pass 1,000 career points, paced the Indians with a 17-point effort.
Although for most of the game his outside shots were not falling nor were his free throws, Cummings still was able to help Rahway erase its 12-point fourth quarter deficit and give the Indians their fifth and final lead at 48-47 when he made his second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter – this one from the right side – with 31.3 seconds left. His first 3-pointer of the fourth – which was only his second basket of the second half and first from the outside – pulled Rahway to within 46-45 with 52.4 seconds remaining. This hoop from the top of the key came from the longest distance.
Both of his 3-pointers in the final quarter sent the Rahway crowd into a frenzy. Cummings ended up scoring Rahway’s last seven points, including the free throw – after missing the first one – that tied the game at 49-49.
A big reason why Rahway was able to chip away at Colonia’s double-digit advantage in the fourth was the play of sophomore Nicolas Galette, who did not score in the first three quarters.
However, Galette came out strong in the fourth and scored the first seven points of the period and Rahway’s first nine, which pulled the Indians to within 38-33 with just over four minutes to go.
The only points Colonia scored before making a free throw with 3:14 to go were two technical free throws Valerano made at the 4:58 mark after the officials penalized the Rahway bench.
Colonia’s first basket of the fourth quarter was not produced until there were just over two minutes to go. It was an inside basket by junior wide-body Chris Sica, his only points of the game making the score 41-35 in favor of the Patriots.
Rahway cut its 12-point deficit to three and then Colonia went on a 5-0 run to take the lead back up to eight at 43-35.
Then Rahway came back again to go on a 13-4 run to take its final lead of 48-47 before final baskets by Lehman and Valerano – before and after the final Cummings free throw – clinched the win for Colonia.
“Rahway has a high-powered offense and we had to play it like we did, we had to keep the score down,” Hall said. “We felt that if this game was played in the 60s or 70s we would have no chance.”
After gaining the opening tip, Colonia actually passed the ball around and held it until the 6:17 mark. That’s when Valerano drained a 3-pointer from the left side to give his team a 3-0 lead to start.
Rahway would not take its first shot of the game until there was 5:33 left in the first quarter, a layup by Cummings that made it 3-2.
Rahway made its first three field goals and was ahead 7-3 at one point in the first quarter, but the Indians were held to less than 10 shots in the period.
“We had to make Cummings work and try to frustrate him,” Hall said. “He is a great player and Rahway is well-coached.
“We limited them to one-shot possessions, which was big. We didn’t expect to have the ball for two minutes on our first possession, but our offense is built on moving the ball around, which we did.”
NOTES: Rahway’s three-year record under head coach Jeff Lubreski – who guided Plainfield to consecutive North 2, Group 3 championships in 2011 and 2012 – is 65-12.
Rahway went 21-4 and won the UCC’s Valley Division title at 9-1 in 2016 and then lost at top-seeded Chatham 51-48 in a N2, G3 semifinal.
Rahway went 21-4 again and won the UCC’s Valley Division crown for a second straight season, this time at 11-1, in 2017 and then lost at home to fifth-seeded and eventual champion Barringer 70-68 in another N2, G3 semi.
Rahway went 23-4 and won the UCC’s Valley Division championship for a third consecutive year, this time perfect at 12-0, this season before falling at home to eighth-seeded Colonia 51-49 in a N2, G3 quarterfinal.
NORTH 2, GROUP 3 BOYS’ BASKETBALL
QUARTERFINAL AT RAHWAY HIGH SCHOOL
8-Colonia (17-9) 08 12 16 15 – 51
1-Rahway (23-4) 09 09 06 25 – 49
8-COLONIA PATRIOTS (51):
1-Luke Valerano, junior, 3-3-6-21
11-Frank Lehman, senior, 3-0-4-10
34-Chad Baker, junior, 2-0-4-8
2-Kristian Chapman, senior, 2-0-1-5
35-Chris Sica, junior, 1-0-0-2
21-Connor Benilacqua, senior, 1-1-0-5
Starters: Valerano, Lehman,
Chapman, Sica, Benilacqua.
1-RAHWAY INDIANS (49):
5-Keyshawn Cummings, senior, 4-2-3-17
24-Zion Pendleton, junior, 4-0-3-11
22-Nicolas Galette, sophomore, 3-0-5-11
14-Denzel Cooper, senior, 0-3-1-10
1-Dashyne Martin, junior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Cummings, Pendleton,
Galette, Cooper, Martin.
2018 NORTH 2, GROUP 3 BOYS’ BASKETBALL
SEEDS: 1-Rahway. 2-Chatham. 3-Summit. 4-Voorhees.
5-Irvington. 6-Snyder. 7-Gov. Livingston. 8-Colonia.
9-Barringer. 10-Middletown North. 11-Mendham. 12-Nutley.
13-Parsippany Hills. 14-Warren Hills. 15-Orange. 16-Somerville.
MONDAY, FEB. 26:
Rahway 77, Somerville 55 – at Rahway
Colonia 63, Barringer 57 (OT) – at Colonia
Irvington 75, Nutley 45 – at Irvington
Parsippany Hills 70, Voorhees 68 – at Voorhees
Warren Hills 62, Summit 52 – at Summit
Snyder 68, Mendham 52 – at Snyder
Gov. Livingston 55, Middletown North 49 – at GL
Chatham 55, Orange 45 – at Chatham
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 28:
Colonia 51, Rahway 49 – at Rahway
Irvington 75, Parsippany Hills 57 – at Irvington
Snyder 66, Warren Hills 49 – at Snyder
Chatham 43, Gov. Livingston 41 – at Chatham
FRIDAY, MARCH 2:
8-Colonia at 5-Irvington
6-Snyder at 2-Chatham
TUESDAY, MARCH 6:
Semifinal winners at higher seed.