Can Union pull off a UCT upset similar to 6 years ago?; Boys’ basketball quarterfinals continue Saturday, Feb. 16 at Rahway and Kean University

Farmers face 22-0 Elizabeth after losing twice to Minutemen by double digits in Mountain Division play

Union slayed the dragon six years ago.

Can the Farmers produce the same result on Saturday?

Union was the first team to advance to the boys’ basketball Union County Tournament quarterfinals after the seventh-seeded Farmers took care of 10th-seeded Rahway 72-53 in Wednesday’s second round game at Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium.

Union – seeking a third straight winning season – improved to 11-10 and will next take on second-seeded Elizabeth in Saturday’s quarterfinals. Rahway had a 10-game winning streak snapped and fell to 17-2. The Indians will next focus on the North 2, Group 3 playoffs later this month – doing so as the top seed for the second straight season.

In the 2013 UCT quarterfinals on a Saturday night at Johnson High School’s Louis J. Peragallo Gymnasium in Clark, eighth-seeded Union knocked off top-seeded Roselle Catholic 64-63 on an Eric Lofton-Harris basket in the lane right before the final buzzer.

It is – perhaps – the biggest upset in UCT history.






Union 72, Rahway 53 – at Union

Union Catholic 76, Westfield 68 – at Union Catholic

Linden 45, Summit 30 – at Linden

New Providence 74, Plainfield 68 – at New Providence




At Rahway High School

5-Union Catholic vs. 4-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth, noon

8-New Providence vs. 1-Roselle Catholic, 1:30 p.m.


At Kean University

6-Linden vs. 3-Patrick School, 6 p.m.

7-Union vs. 2-Elizabeth, 7:30 p.m.


Are the Farmers capable of pulling off another huge UCT quarterfinal round upset?

Elizabeth dominated Westhampton Tech 87-40 Wednesday on Senior Night at the Dunn Center. The Minutemen concluded their regular season slate perfect at 22-0.

Elizabeth, which only won a combined 18 games the past four seasons, has now won 22 games for the first time since the 2011-2012 season, which is the last time the Minutemen won North 2, Group 4 and advanced to Rutgers to play in the Group 4 final. Elizabeth went 22-7 that year.

Elizabeth last won 23 games in 2003-2004 – finishing 23-5 – which was the last year it won the UCT.

This is Elizabeth’s first winning season since the Minutemen went 18-7 in 2012-2013. Elizabeth went 2-20 just three years ago. Only two years ago the Minutemen concluded 3-20, starting 0-12 and not winning a game until Jan. 17.

The sudden transformation has been that dynamic.

Now a trip back to the UCT semifinals for the first time in six years is right in front of them.

Arch rival Union will do everything it can to prevent that from happening.

Elizabeth went to Union and won 66-44 on Jan. 17. Then on Feb. 5 at the Dunn Center the Minutemen topped the Farmers 59-31.

Elizabeth won the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division at 6-0, while Union finished third at 2-4.

“We’ll develop a game plan for us and go out there and play them again, that’s all we can do,” said Union eighth-year head coach Kevin Feeley, whose 2012-2013 team lost twice to Roselle Catholic by double digits in Union County Conference-Watchung Division play before ousting the Lions from the UCT.

Union lost twice to Elizabeth in Mountain Division play this season, also by double digits each occasion.

“Against this Elizabeth team that will be tough to duplicate,” said Feeley, referring to a similar possible UCT upset.

Since the loss at Elizabeth the Farmers rebounded with UCT home wins over 18th-seeded Dayton and Rahway.

“We’ll try to build off what we’ve been doing,” Feeley said. “That means sharing the ball and playing as a team and doing the little things.”

Following a 70-43 home win over Orange Jan. 26, Union lost at Linden 49-47 in overtime, at home to North Bergen 62-54 and then at Union Catholic 64-46.

“We had a rough stretch there with those three losses in a row,” Feeley said. “We had to reset and iron out little details.”

Leading the way the past two victories has been senior guard Ezra Glover.

“He’s been, by far, our best player the last two games,” Feeley said. “Against Dayton (a 54-35 triumph) he only scored five points, but he had six rebounds and six assists and made some really nice plays.

“Against Rahway he was our leading scorer with 22, but he didn’t take a lot of shots. He took good shots when they were there. If we’re going to be successful moving forward we’ll need efforts like that from him.”

Union’s first game against Elizabeth saw the Farmers get out to a 17-7 lead. Elizabeth entered at 11-0 and was coming off a 64-58 home division win over Plainfield, which was not one of its best efforts.

“We got off to a good start, but then had a couple of lapses on defense and then they started to pound the ball inside as the game went on,” Feeley said. “That’s tough for an undersized team like we are.”

Elizabeth came back to take a 30-26 lead at the break, doing so without a single point from senior captains Brenden Kelly and Jesiah West. With both more involved in the second half – West scoring all 14 of his points – the Minutemen won the third quarter 15-8 and the fourth 21-10.

Junior forward Jordan Price was on all game, producing a career-high 26 points.

“They do a good job, they know what their strengths are and that game they got a lot of offensive rebounds,” Feeley said.

When Elizabeth had its inside game going, it was Price, West and – off the bench – 6-6 center Abdul Shanunu making life difficult for the Farmers. Also providing a spark off the bench in that contest for the Minutemen was sophomore guard Pascal Dodard.

“It was just one after another, we couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Feeley said.

That Elizabeth victory began a stretch of six consecutive double-digits wins.

“That game was a real eye-opener for us,” first-year Elizabeth head coach Phil Colicchio said. “We learned a lot about our team pertaining to other guys picking up the slack.”

In last week’s division game played at the Dunn Center, Feeley felt the Farmers played better defensively compared to the first clash.

“Our bigs competed much harder I thought and did a better job of rebounding,” Feeley said. “On offense we took poor shots and when you do that against the kind of defense Elizabeth plays it makes it difficult to score.

“We struggled early on. They kept us in front and then when we did get by we made bad decisions and took bad shots. If you take a bad shot against them you’re not going to get a second one. That’s not the kind of team you’re going to mount a huge comeback against.”

In pulling off the upset six years ago against Roselle Catholic, Union came back from a 10-point deficit with two minutes to go in the third quarter.

“That was a long time ago,” Feeley said. “That was a team that prided itself on defense and not giving up easy baskets. We had a couple of players in foul trouble. When the fourth quarter came around we got hot and had a few stops here and there. We cut it from 10 to three.”

A 3-point field goal by Union senior Jaleel Chain tied the game at 53-53 with 4:21 to go.

Roselle Catholic freshman Matt Bullock took the ball out from under his basket and passed the ball to sophomore Malachi Richardson, who went strong through the lane to bank in a shot for a 63-62 lead. Union quickly called its final timeout with just seven ticks remaining.

Here’s how Lofton-Harris explained the game’s final drive: “I saw (Hakim) Saintill on the left side and (Asante) Gist coming from the right. I split the two defenders and saw that (Tyler) Roberson was back in case I dished it.

“Then I just drove and put the ball up.”

Loftin-Harris banked in the winning basket off the glass.

“As soon as I put it up I knew it was going in,” Lofton-Harris said. “There was no doubt in my mind.”

“Corey (Edwards) made a good pass, he did a phenomenal job, and Eric beat the first guy and went up and over the best player in the state (Feeley was referring to former Union player Roberson),” Feeley said.

The formula for coming out on top against such a heavy favorite?

“All you can really do against teams like Roselle Catholic and Elizabeth is to try to put yourselves in the game when the fourth quarter arrives,” Feeley said. “You’re dealing with high school kids and sometimes you just don’t know how they will react. That night (against RC in 2013) we handled it pretty well.

“If you put four quarters together you can do something. We ended up doing that. Half the battle is the belief, believing you are able to compete.

“Our job (as coaches) the next couple of days is making sure our guys believe what we’re doing is right. You can’t just play in spurts against really good basketball teams. You have to play for 32 minutes.

“You try to get stops as much as you can and limit their runs.”

For Elizabeth a dream season continues. However, the reality so far is that the Minutemen have played 22 games and have come out on top in all 22. They have won 16 by double digits.

There have also been closer games – scoreboard-wise – against the likes of Gilman, Md., Plainfield the first time and Cherokee.

Let’s not forget the buzzer-beaters at home on Opening Night vs. Rutgers Prep and more recently this past Saturday against CBA. In between Elizabeth also rocked the Dunn Center with a thrilling triple-overtime victory over Mountain Division rival Union Catholic.

I’m not big on predictions, but I think this is one year that somebody can get upset in the quarterfinals,” Colicchio said right before the UCT was seeded. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given night.”




SEEDS: 1-Roselle Catholic. 2-Elizabeth. 3-Patrick School.

4-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth.

5-Union Catholic. 6-Linden. 7-Union. 8-New Providence.

9-Plainfield. 10-Rahway. 11-Summit. 12-Westfield.

13-Scotch Plains. 14-Gov. Livingston. 15-Cranford. 16-Johnson.

17-Oratory Prep. 18-Dayton. 19-Hillside. 20-Koinonia.

21-Brearley. 22-Roselle.



Hillside 68, Roselle 64

Koinonia 62, Brearley 27



Union Catholic 66, Koinonia 48

Linden 59, Hillside 45

Union 54, Dayton 35

New Providence 89, Oratory Prep 47

Plainfield 62, Johnson 34

Rahway 52, Cranford 45

Summit 57, Gov. Livingston 53

Westfield 61, Scotch Plains 40



Wednesday, Feb 13

Union 72, Rahway 53

Union Catholic 76, Westfield 68

Linden 45, Summit 30

New Providence 74, Plainfield 68



Saturday, Feb. 16


At Rahway

5-Union Catholic vs. 4-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth, noon

8-New Providence vs. 1-Roselle Catholic, 1:30 p.m.


At Kean University

6-Linden vs. 3-Patrick School, 6 p.m.

7-Union vs. 2-Elizabeth, 7:30 p.m.



Tuesday, Feb. 19

At Kean University

Quarterfinal winners, 6 and 7:30 p.m.



Saturday, Feb. 23

At Kean University

Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.