SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — Minus the first quarter, Scotch Plains-Fanwood played a solid game, kept afloat by pressure defense and the three-point ball. But by the time the Raiders heated up, the damage had already been done. It didn’t help the Raiders’ cause that Phillipsburg seemingly could not miss a shot early in the contest.
A strong seven-seeded Phillipsburg team came into Scotch Plains, opened in a devastating 3-2 zone defense, and erupted for 23 first quarter points. That dominant start was enough to fuel the Stateliners to a season-ending 57-49 upset over two-seeded Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the North 2, Group 4 sectional quarterfinal Thursday night. Phillipsburg advances to play national power and three-seeded Linden on Saturday, while the Raiders’ season ends with a record of 20-7.
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Army-West Point commit Chris Mann went off for 20 points — nine in the opening quarter and 11 during the fourth — to lead Phillipsburg, which trailed just once the entire game. Sharpshooting Jermaine Knight added 17 for the Stateliners, who missed just one shot during the entire opening quarter.
The “Liners” sunk 10 free throws during the fourth quarter to ice the game.
Tommy Drubulis and Lamont Cruse combined for 23 points while Ryan Muench and Dwight Laylor added an additional 17 in the Raiders’ effort that fell short. Drubulis found his stroke late and helped lead the Raiders with 11 points on a trio of three-pointers in the final game of his standout high school career.
Phillipsburg led by as many as 20 points (39-19) at one point in the second half, but that’s when the Raiders started clicking. Suddenly, three point shots that weren’t falling early on were now finding the net, and that helped the Raiders get right back in the game.
After the Raiders mounted a 9-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters, Muench hit a pair of threes within a minute of each other to cut his team’s deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter. Drubulis then popped a three pointer from the right side of the key with 2:55 left to play, which cut the Raiders’ deficit to a mere two possessions (47-41). However, despite the Raiders putting up 24 points during that fourth quarter, Phillipsburg responded from the line to pull away with the upset.
Despite its valiant rally, a Lamont Cruse floater to open up the game and make it 2-0 was the only lead that Scotch Plains-Fanwood would hold all night. Through a display of stellar shooting, Phillipsburg responded to Cruse’s bucket with an 8-0 run, and went on to outscore the Raiders, 23-11, during the opening eight minutes. The Stateliners hit five three-pointers in the opening quarter alone, and Mann and Knight combined for 17 of their team’s 23 first frame points.
At the foul line, Phillipsburg drained 11 free throws total, compared to the Raiders’ four. Both teams hit just one shot from the charity stripe in the opening half.