What once was a double-digit lead had quickly turned into a double-digit deficit late in the third quarter for the Sayreville boys basketball team on Thursday night against Jackson Memorial in the NJSIAA Central Group IV quarterfinals.
The Bombers didn’t go down, though, without a fight.
Senior guard Corey Taite scored 20 of his game-high 27 points over the game’s final nine minutes and senior guard Rob Seraji added 21 as third-seeded Sayreville rallied for a 65-57 win over the sixth-seeded Jaguars, closing the game on a 16-2 run. Sayreville visit second-seeded Trenton in the semifinals on Saturday.
“I keep telling everybody you can’t count these kids out — they’re tough kids, they really are, and they pulled together for each other,” Sayreville coach John Wojcik said. “We were in a timeout and I told the kids, ‘We’ve been down way more than this, don’t count yourself out. The seniors, you don’t want to go out this way on your home floor, undefeated on this floor. Let’s finish this thing strong,’ and Corey Taite, he stepped up.”
Trailing 55-49 with under 3:30 remaining, Taite hit his fifth 3 of the half to bring the Bombers within three and start a 15-0 run.
Jehvye Floyd’s slam with 2:43 remaining followed by Seraji’s driving layup put Sayreville up 56-55 with 2:19 left for its first lead since early in the third quarter.
Taite and Malik Pressley proceeded to go 7-of-8 from the free throw line in the final 36 seconds to seal the win.
“We just stick together,” Taite said. “Me and Rob (Seraji), we were feeling it, so we were just taking turns — whoever hit the last one, just take turns shooting the shots, making big-time plays and make big-time shots and that’s what they did.”
After being held scoreless nearly the first six minutes of the second quarter, Jackson Memorial (21-7) scored the final five points of the quarter to trail only 27-22 at the half.
The Jaguars then took command in the third quarter, opening on a 19-2 run, including the first seven points from Delaware-bound senior center Eric Carter, to take a 41-29 lead as Sayreville struggled against the Jaguars’ 2-3 zone.
“They had a high zone, it was very long, so it was kind of tough for us to penetrate into the paint, so we just had to knock down some open shots to get it going,” said Taite.
Taite, though, hit his first 3 of the second half with one minute left in the quarter and the Bombers caught fire from there.
“We got lazy defensively, I think fatigue set in,” Jackson Memorial coach Joe Fagan said. “I probably should have subbed and it’s always a coach’s nightmare — the group we have out there’s playing really well, you don’t want to take them out, but it’s a mistake and it’s my mistake. I should have subbed and it cost us.”
Carter, who needed 18 points coming into the game for 1,000 career points, finished with 16 to wind up two points shy of the career mark. He was held to three points in the first half as Sayreville’s Myles Hartsfield, a 6-foot 180-pound junior who’s more known for his work on the football field, locked down the 6-8 Carter in the second quarter with Floyd, the Bombers’ big man, in foul trouble.
“Myles Hartsfield is, if not, the best athlete in this state, there’s no doubt about it and he stepped up to the challenge out there,” Wojcik said. “Whatever he does, he has fun. He’s special.”
Jesse Hill added 14 points for Jackson while Gino Palummo added 11.