Old Bridge boys hoops team needs to get hot in a hurry


Staff Writer

Inconsistent play has hampered the Old Bridge High School boys basketball team’s efforts this winter, but coach Rocky Knowles is confident that his Knights can turn things around.

Old Bridge is 4-7 overall; however, the Knights are 4-2 in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division, with victories over J.P. Stevens, Edison, Perth Amboy and Piscataway. More important, there is still plenty of time remaining before the Feb. 4 cutoff to qualify for the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. Teams must have at least a .500 record to get in. Knowles also believes his team can make its mark in the GMC tourney.

“We’re not where we thought we’d be at this point in the season,” said Knowles, whose team went 12-12 a year ago. “It’s a little disappointing because we have a lot of seniors, but the good thing is they’re keeping their heads up and working hard and there’s still time for us the straighten the ship out.”

The Knights played well in the season-opener at East Brunswick, yet lost off a buzzer-beater. Old Bridge had defeated East Brunswick twice last season, and the opening-night loss, combined with playing their first five games on the road, staggered the Knights early on.

“The East Brunswick game actually may have been our best game,” Knowles said. “It’s always tough to open the year with a loss, especially if you play well, and it came at the buzzer, so it was really hard to take.

Still, we can’t make excuses. I think one good win will really help get us going.”

Old Bridge was scheduled to get another crack at East Brunswick last night when the Bears come to town, and St. Joseph’s will visit the Knights on Friday evening.

One of the main issues the Knights have faced is a difficulty putting up points at times, a frustrating situation, given Old Bridge’s personnel and experience. Kahlil Bennett leads the team in scoring with an average of 11.8 points. Bennett, after being held scoreless in the first half, pumped in 18 points after intermission to lead his team in the win over J.P. Stevens.

Gritty guard Ray Reyes and 6-5 center Chris Donnelly both average eight points per game, 6-6 junior center Lance Rogers is contributing four points, and guard Rafael Vasco averages three points.

“When you’re struggling offensively, sometimes the tendency is for some guys to try and do too much,” the coach said. “On the one hand, that’s good to see because it shows how much they care, but we need to get back into more of a team game because you can’t score six points with one shot.”

Hardworking forward John Zimmerlink has been the Knights’ top defensive player. He also leads the team in rebounding with a 7.5 average. Donnelly, Rogers and Akilie Gallaway are also a presence under the hoop.

Knowles has also worked several new players into the lineup, including scrappy junior guard Justin Zimmerlink, John’s younger brother; and sophomore point guard Quinton Crawford. The Knights have played most of their games without forward Ken Toten, who has been injured.

“We’re just starting the second half of the season and we’re going to be playing the teams we’ve had success against,” Knowles said. “Hopefully that will help our confidence. If we can put together a couple of wins, I think we can build on that. We have a hardworking group of kids and I think they’ll get it going.”