In its first Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament game since four-year superstar Danaejah Grant graduated and Corey Floyd took over the coaching reins, the new-look Piscataway High School girls basketball team looked perfectly capable of picking up where a rich tradition left off.
Junior guard Kiki Bynes scored 16 points and freshman forward Kendrea Williams added 14 Wednesday night as seventh-seeded Piscataway built a double-digit first-quarter lead and withstood a few threats to defeat 10th-seeded Spotswood 65-44 in the third round of the GMCT.
“We tried to spread the floor and cut and pass,” Floyd said. “We really got out into the fast break and that was key to opening it up with some easy baskets.”
Piscataway, which had reached seven straight GMCT finals prior to losing to South Brunswick on a buzzer-beater in last year’s semifinals, will face second-seeded Perth Amboy – which it beat twice during the regular season – in the quarterfinals at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Middlesex County College.
“That’s fueling us,” Bynes said of falling short last year. “It’s about redemption, or reclaiming the throne as we say. Coach reminds us that every time you take the floor you’ve got to play like you want it.”
It was clear that Piscataway (13-7) had the desire from the get-go as it closed the first quarter by scoring 14 unanswered points to open up a 20-5 lead. Spotswood (18-6) cut its deficit to 10 at halftime, but found all its momentum gone when Piscataway opened the third quarter in a suffocating full-court press.
Spotswood committed three turnovers in the first 65 seconds of the period and Piscataway made its first five field goal attempts to extend its lead to 39-19 before two minutes elapsed from the clock.
“They’re a very fast team,” Spotswood coach Jill Hetzler said. “Usually we like to run a high-tempo style, but that’s hard to do when the other team is that fast.”
On the verge of getting blown out, Spotswood instead rallied behind two hot hands. Ally Herring (22) and Ashley Pina (18) combined for all but four of their team’s points, including all 25 in the second half.
“Both of them showed up today, which is great,” Hetzler said. “We want them to do a lot of our scoring, but we did miss scoring from a couple other people today. That is going to hurt.”
Herring drained a 3 from the top of the circle to cap a 9-0 run that brought the score to 39-28 and made a scoop shot to keep the deficit at 11, but the latter half of the third quarter belonged to Piscataway.
With Bynes using her flashy handle to push the tempo, the Chiefs flashed a more balanced attack than the followers of the program are accustomed to seeing. Nine players scored, including six in the third.
“The momentum changed a lot,” Bynes said. “By the end, it was ‘Who wants it more?’ Spotswood is really talented. They didn’t just have one player. Coach told us to play them all like they’re stars.”
Floyd doesn’t do all the talking, however. He said he has heard his team reference last season’s GMCT loss a few times since being hired.
“They play it back in their heads and they’re eager to get back to the challenge,” Floyd said. “Perth Amboy is a good team. Yeah, we beat them twice, but it will be a battle on Saturday.”