South boys’ win about more than rivalry

Pirates come back to take overtime contest with North

By: Bob Nuse
   The situation the West Windsor-Plainsboro High South boys’ basketball team found itself in went beyond losing to rival WW-P North for a third straight year. Trailing by seven points with less than four minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Pirates were looking their whole season in the face.
   "I told the guys they just had to dig down and play as hard as they could to make things happen," WW-P South coach Eric Mooney said. "We couldn’t just sit back on our heels. We had to go out and create situations to make things happen for us."
   WW-P South outscored WW-P North, 9-2, over the final four minutes to force overtime, then posted a 52-49 win in overtime on Saturday in front of a standing-room-only crowd on its home court.
   With the win, the Pirates improved to 3-5 on the season and avoided putting themselves in a hole they may never have gotten out of as far as qualifying for the state tournament. The loss dropped North to 5-4 on the season.
   "This is big, beyond just the rivalry game," said Mooney, whose team is back in action tonight at Allentown. "We had our backs to the wall as far as what we wanted to accomplish this season. If we lost this game, we’d be 2-6 with another tough week ahead of us. So we needed to win this game. It was definitely a must-win situation for us."
   Trailing by seven with less than four minutes to play, there certainly was a sense of urgency for the Pirates. They got within five on a basket by Grant MacQueen, then cut the lead to three on a pair of free throws by Uche Ndubizu. A basket by Vondre Ossario cut the lead to one, and South tied the game on another free throw by Ndubizu.
   Brian Sufalko gave the Knights back the lead with a basket with just under two minutes to play. After North missed the front end of a one-and-one twice, South tied the game on a basket by Kevin Turner with 44 seconds left.
   In overtime, Sufalko gave North a lead with a basket before Turner made a basket and converted a free throw to give the Pirates the lead, 50-49, with 1:48 left. Matt Howell iced the game with a pair of late free throws.
   "We wanted to make a run," said Howell, who finished with 11 points. "They had just gone on one and we felt like we could still go on one and we did. I think we just started playing better defense and that led to us getting better shots. It helped our offense that we started to play better defense."
   The win was a huge one for the Pirates, who had lost their last two games to North by a total of four points. Ndubizu was part of both of those losses and didn’t want to see it happen again.
   "I was committed to coming out strong in this game," said Ndubizu, who led the Pirates with 15 points. "I was looking at this game as the start of my season. I wasn’t happy with the way I had been playing up until now.
   "The last two years we lost this game and it hurt us for the whole season. So this was a big game for us. It feels good to finally beat North. We’ve been close with them my last two years, but we weren’t able to win it."
   "This is very big for us," added Turner, who came off the bench to score 12 points. "This game can help us turn our whole season around. If we lost to North, we would have been in trouble. Now we have to turn it around and do our thing."
   The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Pirates, who hope to play well enough over the next two weeks to qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 1998. North, which qualified for the state tournament for the first time last year, is still over .500 and looking to make a return trip.
   "It was a game of momentum going back and forth," North coach Eric Becker said. "We tried to change a few things, but it all comes down to making shots. It’s a credit to them because they made the plays and they made their foul shots.
   "I’m real proud of my guys. I asked them to come out and play hard and they did. But there are no moral victories. We played well, but they won the game."
   North was able to build a seven-point fourth quarter lead behind the scoring of Sufalko (20 points) and Jeff Torralba (15 points), as well as the inside play of Mike Pilgrim, who battled the taller Pirates inside all game long.
   "We both battled back and forth and that’s the way it should be played," said Becker, whose team will host Notre Dame today. "I was real happy with Mike Pilgrim. He battled back the whole game against guys who were a lot better. They had a size advantage, but we were able to cause some turnovers and get some loose balls."
   Overall, it was a game that both teams played well, and South just happened to make the last run. And playing it in front of a packed house made it all the better.
   "This was unbelievable," said Mooney, who was experiencing his first North-South game. "This was for the community. It was great to see so many people come out for a game and then to be able to have two good teams play a good game and go into overtime, it was just a great atmosphere for high school sports."