CLARK – To cement their position as one of the top teams in Central Jersey, Group 2 the Johnson Crusaders continued to play the kind of basketball they are capable of.
It wasn’t perfect by any means, but they were able to hold one of the best players in their division to just one official field goal in addition to limiting an 11th opponent to under 50 points.
When Johnson holds teams under 50 points the Crusaders are 10-1. When they don’t they’re 0-5.
“We pride ourselves on defense,” said Johnson first-year head coach Mike Pozyc. “The next play we expect to stop people.”
Johnson broke open a close game a bit by expanding its lead to double-digits in the third quarter and then held off visiting Dayton in the fourth to the tune of a 56-46 Union County Conference-Sky Division boys basketball triumph Thursday night at Johnson High School’s Louis J. Peragallo Gymnasium.
Johnson improved to 10-6 overall and 6-4 in the Sky Division, with two division games remaining. The Crusaders began the evening 10th in the power point standings in CJG2 and now have their 16 qualifying games complete by Saturday’s cutoff.
Johnson has won eight of its last 10.
Dayton, which fell at home to Johnson 54-48 back on Jan. 14, slipped to 7-9 overall and finished 7-5 in the Sky Division. The Bulldogs will qualify in North 2, Group 1 and were ninth in the power points in that section prior to Thursday night’s contest.
Johnson received 14 points each from frontcourt players Matthew O’Connor and Aidan Laughery, who both went to the basket with authority the entire game.
O’Connor, a senior, explains how Johnson tried to slow down Dayton senior shooting guard DJ Alicea, with Georgian Court in the house taking a look at him.
“We went to a matchup zone to try to take him out as much as we could,” O’Connor said. “Offensively we tried to slow the ball down too, which was a big key.”
Alicea had to drive to the basket to get any kind of points because he wasn’t able to receive many passes in an attempt to take a set jumper the way Johnson’s defense swarmed Dayton’s offensive sets.
Alicea finished with a team-high 13 points, making his only field goal in the fourth quarter after he connected on 11-of-14 free throw attempts.
Alicea was 0-for-3 from the field in the first quarter, 0-for-2 in the second and 0-for-0 in the third. His only official field goal attempt came in the fourth when he drove through the lane this time without contact and put up a one-handed floater that came down and hit nothing but the bottom of the net. He finished 1-of-6 from the field.
It was also a big basket for Dayton at the time, which cut Johnson’s lead to five at 43-38 with 5:14 to go.
However, the hoop seemed to wake Johnson up a bit as the Crusaders then went on a 10-3 run to go back up by more than 10 at 53-41 with just over 30 seconds remaining.
The surge started with Laughery driving to the hoop for two and ended with him making his final two free throws.
“We just go out there and play as hard as we can,” Laughery said.
“Reaching double digit wins was a goal,” O’Connor said.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Laughery echoed.
A three-point basket from the top of the key at the first quarter buzzer by Johnson junior Agustine Puentes gave the Crusaders the lead for good at 11-10.
Dayton hung in there in the second quarter, with Alicea connecting on six free throws, and was within one until Johnson junior guard Anthony Ferreira scored inside with 12 seconds left to give the Crusaders a 26-23 lead at intermission.
That turned out to be the first basket of a 14-0 Johnson run that included the Crusaders scoring the first 12 points of the third quarter to take a 38-23 lead. Dayton did not score in the period until sophomore Cameron Campbell-Miller made a free throw with just 3:05 remaining.
Johnson outscored Dayton 14-7 in the third with Dayton getting three more free throws from Alicea and a three-point basket from junior Mike Kanarek to go with the earlier free throw made by Campbell-Miller.
“When you go up against a player as good as Alicea, and I don’t think enough colleges are recruiting him, you try to take his game away,” Poyzc said. “For us it was making him a passer and for him to try to take contested shots.”
Johnson has now held nine of its last 10 opponents to under 50 points, going 8-1 in that stretch. The only setback in that span was a 32-31division loss at Roselle on Jan. 28, with the host Rams winning at the buzzer.
“Our kids grind,” Pozyc said. “Our guard Tino is out there leading them and we have great senior leadership with Matt (O’Connor) and Bobby (Lukasiewicz).
“I took a lot of heat for taking this job. People said the talent was not great.”
Pozyc is a 2010 Johnson graduate who played football, basketball and baseball for the Crusaders. He previously coached at Rutgers Prep, Linden and St. Mary’s, Elizabeth. He coached with longtime mentor Tim Ortelli at Rutgers Prep and now Ortelli is one of his assistants at Johnson.
“This is my home,” Pozyc said. “This is where I want to be.
“I want to coach these kids and these kids want to be coached by me. It’s the perfect fit.”
NOTES: Johnson’s final field goal – the first of its kind this year – came on a fullcourt pass thrown from Laughery to O’Connor, with O’Connor catching the ball just ahead of the Dayton defender covering him. O’Connor continued to the basket for an easy layup.
“We just drew up the play, we never tried it before,” Laughery said.
“I was just reading my guy and looked up and caught the ball,” O’Connor said.
Last month Alicea became Dayton’s all-time leading boys scorer and has now scored in double digits in 63 straight games. His career point total is over 1,300. The previous record was held by Kevin Doty, Class of 1978.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-SKY DIVISION
BOYS’ BASKETBALL AT JOHNSON HIGH SCHOOL
Dayton (7-9, 7-5) 10 13 07 16 – 46
Johnson (10-6, 6-4) 11 15 14 16 – 56
DAYTON BULLDOGS (46):
21-AC Corigliano, junior, 2-1-1-8
13-Mahki Cromartie, junior, 1-2-0-8
2-DJ Alicea, senior, 1-0-11-13
0-Cameron Campbell-Miller, sophomore, 2-0-1-5
24-Mike Kanarek, junior, 1-1-2-7
4-Josh Jackson, junior, 2-0-1-5
33-Daniel Munoz, junior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Alicea, Campbell-Miller,
Jackson, Kanarek, Munoz.
JOHNSON CRUSADERS (56):
33-Matthew O’Connor, senior, 5-0-4-14
2-Aidan Laughery, junior, 4-1-3-14
4-Anthony Ferreira, junior, 1-0-2-4
5-Agustine (Tino) Puentes, junior, 0-2-2-8
23-Joseph Carney, sophomore, 1-1-0-5
11-Billy Sasse, junior, 3-0-1-7
22-Andrew Popp, junior, 1-0-0-2
25-Robert Lukasiewicz, senior, 1-0-0-2
Starters: O’Connor, Ferreira,
Laughery, Lukasiewicz, Puentes.