SOMERVILLE – The last time the Immaculata boys basketball team suited up for a game, they suffered a disappointing loss to Franklin High School. That was six days ago. The Spartans had six days to forget their last opponent and prepare for their contest against Bound Brook in the second round of the Somerset County Tournament.
The Spartans were in for a battle. Bound Brook did not shy away and kept Immaculata on their toes during the majority of the game. After Immaculata entered their locker room down by three points at halftime, they were in search of someone to demand the basketball.
After a steady start to the game, junior George Browning made sure his team would survive to see another day. Browning contributed six points during the first-half, but Browning was a different player during the conclusion of the competition. Brown added an offensive energy that the Spartans needed during their 59-49 victory over Bound Brook.
“We go as George goes,” Immaculata head coach Ryan McKeever said. “When he brings his energy level everyone else relates to that. He brings out that extra burst for our team. We started really going once he started playing defense and making plays.”
Browning finished the game 18 points, with 12 coming during the second-half. Browning also added four important free-throws down the stretch for the Spartans.
“My jump shot wasn’t falling, so coach said to attack the rim,” Browning said about his adjustment during halftime. “Coach was getting on me and saying, ‘are you serious right now, George? You are better than that.’ I attacked the rim and did what I could to help the team.”
It was imperative for Browning to take charge against Bound Brook because Immaculata’s two senior leaders were both battling through adversity.
Julien Alexis, who has been the main threat on offense all season for Immaculata, was battling leg cramps throughout the whole fourth quarter. Alexis decided to rest up for the next challenger once the Spartans had a comfortable lead.
Alexis kept Immaculata in the game in the first-half, scoring 11 of his 13 points during the first two quarters.
“He was banged up, but he made some tough shots down the stretch,” McKeever said. “He’s our go-to guy. We need to get him our most shots. I thought other guys stepped up with him being hurt.”
Immaculata’s other scoring factor, Gianni Buarne, was battle through a sickness against Bound Brook. The senior only scored four points, but it was his vocal leadership that proved to be vital for his team.
“I like our senior leadership,” Browning said. “They get us going when we are down. Gianni is vocal, even when he is sick. Julien won’t speak much, but when he is in the game and he will tell you to get going.”
Browning teamed up with Jared Chambliss during the second-half. Chambliss had 15 points and went perfect from the line during the fourth quarter, sinking all six of his free-throws.
Bound Brook played hard until the end. The Crusaders only trailed by two points heading into the fourth quarter. Bound Brook struggled to figure out Immaculata’s defense during the final quarter, which ultimately allowed the Spartans to advance to the next round.
Immaculata also showed that they could stretch the floor and breaking the full-court press. Coach McKeever wanted his team to look towards the middle of the court.
“We just looked towards the middle and looked to get the ball up the court,” McKeever said. “When we were giving them opportunities to trap us, that’s when we were in trouble. We did a good job of kicking the ball up the sideline and looking towards the middle.”
Anthony Perez led the Crusaders with 16 points. Immaculata made it a point to shut down Bound Brook’s point guard, Kevin Pacheco. He finished with 12 points.
“They are a scrappy team,” Browning said. “Kevin Pacheco was getting into the lane and we had to shut them down somehow, so we started collapsing in the lane. That stopped him from driving so easily.”
Immaculata will now advance to the quarterfinals to face Rutgers Prep. The Spartans lost to the Argonauts by a score of 67-41 on Jan. 22. Although Immaculata will not be on their home court, where they are most comfortable, the team feels like they can reverse their fortunes against Rutgers Prep. Coach McKeever knows his team will have to show for all four quarters in order to pull off the upset.
“Rutgers Prep is a good team,” McKeever said. “They are obviously led by two of the best players in the state. We are going to have our hands full. We have to bring it for 32 minutes in that game. We are in trouble if we play for anything less than 32 minutes against them.”