Phillipsburg boys basketball pushes past Easton in 2nd half
It didn’t take long for the Phillipsburg High School boys basketball team to translate the halftime message into a game-changing third quarter.
“That was one of the main things that we really stressed at halftime. I thought amping up the pressure was going to lead to us getting some easy buckets in transition,” Stateliners coach Todd Sigafoos said. “It’s one of the goals that we had going into the game; we were unable to do it in the first half. But, we challenged them at halftime. The kids really answered the bell.”
Phillipsburg quickly erased a four-point deficit and rallied past Easton for a 46-43 home victory on Wednesday night.
The Stateliners are now 3-2 against their rivals since the 2017-18 season, which featured the program’s first win over the Red Rovers in more than a decade.
Easton held a 26-22 advantage at intermission, but a bucket from sophomore Andrew Martin and a steal and layup from freshman Matthew Scerbo Jr. tied the contest after 59 seconds in the third quarter.
Phillipsburg (8-8) held Easton without a point for 4 minutes and 35 seconds and outscored the visitors 15-5 in the period. A putback by Scerbo pushed the Stateliners’ lead to 37-30 with 45 seconds remaining in the third.
“In the first half, we were a little lackadaisical on defense. They were making shots that we shouldn’t have let them get,” P’burg senior Josh Borelli said. “We went into the locker room; we went over what we had to do; we matched it to their offense; and we got those stops that we needed down the stretch.”
The ‘Liners kept the Rovers at bay in the fourth quarter by continuing to generate turnovers and being meticulous in their offensive possessions.
“We play in a really, really tough conference,” Sigafoos said. “We’re always in a battle every night. We’ve been able to learn how to win. I think that showed tonight.”
“We just kept up the energy,” Martin added. “We didn’t let up whatsoever. We kept making plays down the stretch.”
Easton (1-16) made it a one-score game in the closing seconds, but time expired before P’burg needed to inbound the ball.
“It’s kind of been an ongoing theme with us this year, we struggle to put points on the board. It’s no secret,” Rovers coach Ben Childs said. “That puts a lot of pressure on our defense, and that puts a lot of pressure on every possession offensively.”
Easton shot about 50 percent from the field in the second half but squandered too many opportunities thanks to 12 turnovers.
“We’ve also been a little turnover-prone. When every possession is crucial offensively – we had a few too many turnovers in key situations,” Childs said.
6-foot-7 senior forward Kola Lysynecky, who (unofficially) only missed one shot from the field, paced the Rovers with 17 points and dished out six assists. Classmate Austyn Lutes added 10 points and nine rebounds. Cole Transue, another senior, knocked down a pair of 3s and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Rovers have battled despite a lack of victories this winter.
“They’ve continued to work every single day. Our goal has been to get better every day – win the day,” Childs said. “It’s been a frustrating year (in terms of) wins and losses, but it’s not for a lack of effort. These kids keep practicing hard; they keep competing ... I know it’s not showing up in the win column, but we’ve been in a lot of games this year, and this is another one of them.”
Borelli paced P’burg with 17 points, including 14 in the first half, on 6 of 13 shooting from the field.
“Josh played well. He kept us in it in the first half and shot the ball really well,” Sigafoos said. “When Josh gets going, he’s really tough to stop.”
Scerbo finished with 12 points, and Martin added 11 point and six boards for P’burg, which was grateful for a chance to host Easton after the rivalry contest wasn’t played last season.
“It just felt really good to get out there and get that win,” Borelli said. “We weren’t able to play them last year; my sophomore year we got blown out by these guys; and this year we just came out and we wanted it. We wanted to win.”
“It’s tremendous. Not being able to play them last year – the season isn’t the same when you don’t play your rival,” said Sigafoos, who is now 1-0 vs. Easton as a varsity head coach. “That was one of the things we really stressed, controlling your emotions, using the crowd to our advantage.”
P’burg has won four of its last five games and hopes to keep things rolling in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex tournament. The ‘Liners host Newton in county play on Saturday.
“It’s one of the first times in a while where I think anybody can go in there and make a nice, long run,” Sigafoos said of the H/W/S bracket. “That’s our goal.”
Kyle Craig may be reached at email@example.com.