Elizabeth boys’ basketball falls just short in N2, G4 final to defending champion East Side; Minutemen produce outstanding 26-2 season that includes Mountain Division title

ELIZABETH – Newark East Side diminutive senior guard Anas Amos was a pest inside for the Red Raiders.
He established early on Monday night vs. host Elizabeth that despite his 5-6 stature he was not afraid to not only get through the lane, but put the ball up and in.
His layup to commence the scoring once the second half got underway gave East Side its first of two 12-point leads – the widest margins of the game. That was his third field goal, all coming in the paint, with the first two produced in the second quarter, the initial one on a left-handed shot and the second from an offensive rebound.
As big as those baskets were, however, they would pale in comparison to the final field goal he would make.
After Amos missed a layup and then Elizabeth got possession of the ball as the result of a jump ball, Elizabeth had the ball with 1:06 left and the score still deadlocked for the second time at 48-48.
Elizabeth then turned the ball over with 30.6 seconds to go, never able to get a shot off. Four passes later the Red Raiders called time out for the final time with 7.6 ticks to go.
Then James Paul passed to Mikah Johnson and then Johnson passed to Amos.
“The play was designed to get Mikah the ball,” Amos said.
The shot was not there for Johnson as he dished off to Amos, who then saw an opening in the middle of the lane and went for it.
“I made eye contact with Mikah and he got me the ball,” Amos said. “Then everything just sort of opened. It just so happened.”
Again, Amos put the ball up and in. Although there still showed one second remaining on the scoreboard clock above, East Side fans did not care. They stormed the court thinking the Red Raiders had won the game.
Play resumed with 1.7 seconds put back on the clock. Elizabeth needed a Christian Laettner moment. Unfortunately for the Minutemen it didn’t happen. Brenden Kelly’s more-than halfcourt pass did reach Jesiah West, but West’s long-range shot was far wide left of the basket.
East Side held on for a hard-fought, gut-wrenching 50-48 triumph Monday night at the Dunn Sport Center to repeat as North 2, Group 4 champions. The Red Raiders, also 3-peat Essex County Tournament champions, improved to 26-4 and will return to Dunn Wednesday night to play in the Group 4 semifinal there vs. the winner of Tuesday night’s Hackensack at Union City North 1, Group 4 final.
A season nobody, believe me nobody, saw coming ended for Elizabeth at 26-2. The only two games this year the Minutemen never had a lead in were both of their losses.
Despite falling short by just one basket, Elizabeth had a sensational season, one that included numerous victories of the comeback, late and highly-thrilling variety. The only Minutemen loss suffered at home was the one Monday night.
East Side also turned out to be the only team Elizabeth – which captured the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division championship perfect at 6-0 – faced this year that it did not defeat.
East Side moves on.
Elizabeth, with three starters back, will begin to prepare to get right back to this same spot in 12 months.
“It’s incredible,” Amos said. “I made one of these shots against St. Anthony my sophomore year and one against Teaneck my junior year, but to make this shot for the section, there’s nothing like it.”
“We wanted to get the ball to Mikah toward the basket,” East Side co-head coach Anthony Tavares said. “He did a great job by not forcing it when the shot wasn’t there and then getting the ball to Nas (Amos).
“Nas has been an ambassador for the city of Newark, helping us win three county championships and now two sectional titles. He’s our heart and soul. We consider him First Team All-State.
“He made a great shot that won us the game.”
Amos and Nasir Johnson paced East Side with 13 points each, while Mikah Johnson added nine.
East Side was on fire shooting the ball in the very beginning, making four straight shots after missing its first and then five of its first seven overall to jump out to leads of 7-0 and then 12-4.
Kelly picked up his second foul inside the final minute of the first quarter. Elizabeth head coach Phil Colicchio kept him on the bench the entire second quarter.
East Side took advantage, increasing its lead at the end of the first quarter from 15-10 to 31-21 at intermission.
One of the biggest baskets in the game was a tip in by Mikah Johnson right before the second quarter buzzer, giving East Side its first lead of 10 points at 31-21. Johnson’s final points came on the third East Side shot in its final offensive possession as the Red Raiders proved to be a bit more productive on the boards in the game’s first 16 minutes.
East Side had three leads of eight points earlier in the second quarter.
They built two leads of 12 points early on in the third quarter before Elizabeth mounted its comeback.
A basket banked in by Nasir Johnson gave East Side its second and final lead of 12 points at 35-23. The Minutemen immediately answered with an 8-0 run.
Junior forward Jordan Price, who paced Elizabeth with 15 points, made 3-point baskets before and after junior guard DJ Watkins scored his first two points on free throws.
Elizabeth ended the quarter trailing by four again at 42-38 when sophomore guard Al-Fatir Connor made his only basket of the game – a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Elizabeth hung in there as the fourth quarter commenced and kept chipping away at East Side’s smaller lead. A West tip in pulled the Minutemen to within 44-42, but then Denzel Small answered for East Side with a two-handed dunk.
West made one of two free throws to make it 46-43 before Kelly tied the game for the first time with his second 3-pointer, a shot from the right side that made the score 46-46 with 4:22 remaining. Elizabeth fans roared the loudest once the ball went in.
After Nasir Johnson hit a jumper from the right side to give East Side back the lead at 48-46, Elizabeth senior Abdul Shanunu’s third and final field goal knotted the game at 48-48. Watkins assisted both the Kelly and Shanunu baskets.
East Side missed its next shot, with Kelly coming down with the rebound. In an attempt to give Elizabeth its first lead, Kelly then let go of another 3-point attempt from the top of the key that just missed.
Elizabeth ended up having one more chance to take the lead, but was unable to get a shot off, resulting in the turnover with 30.6 seconds left.
Every East Side starter had three fouls going into the fourth quarter, but did not foul out. West and Price picked up their fourth fouls in the fourth, but also did not foul out.
“This was a chess match,” Tavares said. “Elizabeth had foul trouble early on and we did later.
“This was a great game between two public schools that I feel don’t get the respect they deserve. We were just one basket better.
“We knew Elizabeth was going to make a push, that’s why we needed to have every single one of those points when we were up 12, especially with the fouls we had. Coach Colicchio is probably the best coach in the state now that Bob Hurley is no longer coaching. We knew his kids were never going to give up.”
“When we were up 12 we were kind of hoping we could put them away, but then the game got stressful,” Amos said. “But we were prepared for games like this, playing in close games against teams like Seton Hall Prep.
“Elizabeth began to double-team me and it is a credit to them how they came back.”
East Side won its Group 4 semifinal last year before falling just short against Shawnee in the Group 4 final at Rutgers.
“We have to calm down now, the year is not over,” Amos said. “We need to win a state championship now.”
Shawnee lost in the 2017 Group 4 final and then won it last year. Tavares is hoping the same pattern befits his team by the end of this week.
“The loss to Shawnee last year was heartbreaking,” Tavares said. “We’re hoping to get back to Rutgers Sunday. If that happens, then whatever happens is in the lord’s hands.”

NORTH 2, GROUP 4 FINAL AT THE DUNN CENTER
2-Newark East Side (26-4) 15 16 11 08 – 50
1-Elizabeth (26-2) 10 11 17 10 – 48

2-NEWARK EAST SIDE RED RAIDERS (50):
1-Anas Amos, senior, 4-0-5-13
13-Nasir Johnson, senior, 4-1-2-13
21-Denzel Small, senior, 2-0-2-6
2-Andrew Speight, senior, 0-0-1-1
3-Gabe Olaniyi, junior, 2-0-1-5
11-Mikah Johnson, junior, 2-1-2-9
23-James Paul, senior, 1-0-1-3
Starters: Amos, Paul,
N. Johnson, Speight, M. Johnson.
Totals: 15-2-14-50.

1-ELIZABETH MINUTEMEN (48):
33-Abdul Shanunu, senior, 3-0-0-6
0-Brenden Kelly, senior, 0-2-1-7
1-Jesiah West, senior, 4-0-6-14
2-Al-Fatir Connor, sophomore, 0-1-0-3
3-DJ Watkins, junior, 0-1-0-3
4-Jordan Price, junior, 3-2-3-15
11-Julius David, senior, 0-0-0-0
14-Pascal Dodard, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Kelly, West,
Connor, Watkins, Price.
Totals: 10-6-10-48.

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