Kennedy boys are heating up

PHOTOS BY SCOTT PILLING staff Above, JFK's Vinny Marciano shoots a jumper over Metuchen's Jon Brown during a game on Jan. 17 in Iselin. At left, Brown shows off his shooting form over JFK's John McKenna. PHOTOS BY SCOTT PILLING staff Above, JFK’s Vinny Marciano shoots a jumper over Metuchen’s Jon Brown during a game on Jan. 17 in Iselin. At left, Brown shows off his shooting form over JFK’s John McKenna. ISELIN – After a dismal 0-5 start to the season, the John F. Kennedy High School boys basketball team has turned things around and played .500 basketball for the month of January.

The Mustangs are fresh off a big week with wins over Metuchen and South Amboy with a near upset over Blue Division powerhouse Cardinal McCarrick in a 75-71 loss.

JFK held off a late surge from Metuchen to upend the Bulldogs 76-70 before breezing past South Amboy 89-70.

“We held a lead over Metuchen at the half, but they were able to slow things down in the third quarter and battle back,” Kennedy head coach Jamison Panko said. “We were able to make our foul shots down the stretch and hold on.”

JFK’s Dan Brown held the hot hand in the win over South Amboy, posting a team-high 21 points.

“Dan and Vinny Marciano have been our top scorers and both are averaging in double-figures,” Panko said. “Against South Amboy, we pushed the ball up the floor as quickly as we could and it worked out for us.”

Perhaps the team’s slow start was a result of Panko’s players getting used to the new run-and-gun style they embraced this season.

“I have 12 players on the roster and everybody plays,” Panko said. “We try to force the tempo and pick up the pace to compensate for our lack of size. We shoot a lot of threes and we’re averaging 10 3-pointers per game. Right now, everyone on the team has knocked down at least one 3-pointer.”

The unusual style of play has created problems for the opposition. Metuchen head coach Rich Stoner said his team’s recent loss had a lot to do with the game’s tempo, which was nearly impossible to simulate at practice.

“Trying to simulate the opposition’s size is difficult for us,” Panko said. “It has taken the team some time to get used to this new system because it is a style that is very different than the style played by most teams around us.”

The team’s unusual style nearly created an upset over the Blue Division’s top team Cardinal McCarrick. Kennedy’s Jason Morris led the team with 17 points in the 75-71 loss. Brown added 15 points and Marciano finished with 12 points.

“We had a good week against some of the top teams in the Blue Division, but now we have to take our act on the road,” Panko said. “We tend to play much better at home so we’ll need to transfer our skills into away games.”

After opening the week with a road game in Highland Park, the Mustangs will face Metuchen for the second time in as many weeks at 7 p.m. Tomorrow night before closing the week against rival Colonia Saturday.

“We have to win some of the up-and-coming division games,” Panko said. “Four Blue Division teams are among the top teams in the county, which puts the division on the same level as the Red Division. Winning some division games will help us out in the long run as we approach tournament time.