Phillipsburg boys basketball refuses to lose, puts away Warren Hills
What Phillipsburg High School’s 69-53 boys basketball win at Warren Hills showed Stateliners coach Todd Sigafoos on Thursday night had nothing to do with scoring, rebounding and playing defense.
Rather, it was about the intangibles and the will to win.
“They took pride in sticking together and realizing we weren’t going to settle for a loss tonight,” Sigafoos said. “They picked each other up, and that showed growth and leadership when things weren’t going our way.”
Though the 3-1 Stateliners, ranked No. 8 in this week’s lehighvalleylive.com Top 10, won by a seemingly comfortable margin, the third quarter was evaporating into a house of horrors much to the delight of Warren Hills’ vocal Blue Crew student section.
The Blue Streaks (2-2) had been playing from behind since midway through the first quarter until Danny Willis’ putback of a missed 3-pointer tied the score at 37-all three minutes into the third period. A pair of free throws by Jimmy Hummel lifted Warren Hills to a 39-38 lead, and Blessing Ekwuazi pushed the Streaks ahead again with a turnaround jumper in the lane and a layup off a steal for a 43-42 advantage with 1:32 left in the quarter.
“We were doing a nice job executing our game plan,” Warren Hills coach Joe Bamford said. “We tried to keep them out of the lane area with our three-quarters court press and in our zone. (Phillipsburg’s) Andrew Martin and (Matthew) Scerbo (Jr.) do a great job when they touch the ball in the paint, and we were successful keeping them from getting to their comfort spots.”
As a result, the Stateliners’ other players needed to step up offensively … and they did to fuel an 8-0 run to end the quarter that continued into the fourth quarter with junior guard Ethan White-Philpot’s layup off a steal for a 53-43 lead.
The spurt started with junior reserve forward Jason Abbott’s corner 3-pointer and continued with senior 6-4 reserve center Jayveon Jackson’s power move to the basket.
Scerbo and Martin then got in on the fun. Scerbo pilfered a Warren Hills pass and cashed it in for a pair of free throws. He punctuated the end of the quarter with a slam on a runout that was triggered by Martin’s steal and long pass.
“I know every time I get a steal, I look for him (Scerbo) down court,” Martin said, “and I know when he gets a steal he’s looking for me.”
“That run (at the end of the quarter) sparked us, and it came from our defense,” Scerbo said.
The Blue Streaks never drew closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“That stretch at the end of the third quarter, they ratcheted up their press in their man-to-man defense and forced turnovers,” Bamford said. “Time started ticking away, and we got away from what was working for us. They’re a real quick team.”
Martin scored nine of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter including the Stateliners’ final seven points. He poured in a career-high 37 in a victory over Union on Dec. 16.
The senior said the team learned a valuable lesson in its season-opening 56-49 loss at Watchung Hills when Phillipsburg failed to protect a three-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
“We knew we were the better team tonight,” Martin said. “As long as we trust each other and believe in one another we can get the win.”
Sigafoos credited Scerbo and Martin, both three-year starters, with providing invaluable leadership on and off the court.
“They were getting in the ears of their teammates in timeouts, at halftime,” Sigafoos said. “They were constantly picking them up.”
“With this being my third year, I feel the guys are respecting me more,” Scerbo said.
Scerbo backed Martin with 15 points and was 5-for-5 from the foul line.
Senior forward Ameer Herran also scored 15 points – 10 for 18 from the foul line – and provided enough thrills and spills during Thursday night’s game to last an entire season.
Herran, who was coming off a 16-point, 10-rebound effort in Tuesday’s win over Hunterdon Central, stepped out to drain a 3-pointer to put Phillipsburg ahead 41-39 in the third quarter. Twenty seconds later the 6-2 Herran received the ball on the break and attempted to leap over two defenders and throw down a windmill dunk.
The ball caromed off the front of the rim and toward the ceiling. Herran crashed to the floor as his glasses went flying into the wall. Somehow, he scraped himself off the floor and made 1 of 2 free throws.
“I was trying to dunk on him … I was feeling the big play,” Herran said.
Fast forward to the Stateliners leading 64-50 with 1:49 to go. One of Herran’s teammates missed a layup in transition. While Willis and two other Blue Streaks vied for the rebound, Herran again put his body in harm’s way by soaring into the fray after trailing the play. He flipped over the sea of humanity and onto his side as the crowd drew scarily quiet.
A minute later, Herran popped up and walked to the Phillipsburg bench with a big smile on his face. Willis went to the foul line and made 1 of 2 free throws.
“My right elbow’s a little sore, but that’s all,” Herran said. “I’m primarily a rebounder and defender … block shots. I was trying to go (for the rebound) in mid-air, and I felt someone cut my legs out.”
Scerbo said the Stateliners see this all-out hustle from Herran every day in practice. Sometimes, it makes them shudder.
“He wants to get that highlight; he does some crazy things,” Scerbo said shaking his head. “On that (missed) dunk, he probably was thinking he was Michael Jordan.”
Phillipsburg, which defeated Warren Hills for the fourth straight season, returns to action in the Easton Rotary tournament when it meets Freedom 7:30 p.m., Wednesday. Easton and Hatboro-Horsham play in the opener at 6.
Warren Hills will compete in the Newton tournament next Wednesday with its opener against Roxbury. Newton and Sparta square off in the other first-round game.
The Blue Streaks displayed confidence stepping out beyond the arc against Phillipsburg’s zone. Ekwuazi hit a pair of 3s as part of his team-high 20 points. DJ Schaefer swished three 3s and converted a four-point play early in the third quarter. Hummel also drained two 3s.
“We’ve definitely improved on shooting the ball,” Bamford said. “We’ve been preaching to the guys let’s get a great look, not just a good look. We love the type of 3s we were taking tonight. I’ve got to give our guys credit, they were working to make the extra pass and get the great shot.”
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Corky Blake can be reached at email@example.com.