The art of overcoming adversity is a well-worn topic at Bound Brook, both as a popular come-from-behind drill in practice sessions and as pre-game subject matter for head coach Anthony Melesurgo.
Overcoming adversity. It's a concept that the undefeated Crusaders repeatedly recite and aspire to be proficient in, but also one that hasn't been a part of their reality.
Until Tuesday night, that is, when Rutgers Prep unloaded a healthy heaping of adversity upon Bound Brook's floor and challenged the Crusaders to sift their way through it.
Third-seeded Bound Brook confronted deep foul trouble and also its largest deficit of the season in the second half, but rallied behind the clutch play of Ricky Holliday and Hamilton Capellan to edge sixth-seeded Rutgers Prep, 61-60, in the quarterfinals of the Somerset County Tournament in Bound Brook.
"Yeah, we were down three at the half (29-26), and coach told us we were gonna have to prep ourselves and find a way to come back to win it," Holliday said. "We had to face even more adversity early in the second half, but we came back and pulled It out.
"We're one team," he said, "and we stay together to the end."
Holliday scored seven of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to help Bound Brook (19-0) fashion an 18-13 run and arrange an SCT semifinal battle with second-seeded and two-time defending champion Gill St. Bernard's at 4 p.m. Saturday at Montgomery High. The senior guard also had five rebounds and six assists.
Capellan helped Bound Brook hold things together in the third quarter by scoring eight of his team-high 20 points. He also buried a 3-pointer off a heady feed from Holliday to give his team the lead for good, 53-50, with 3:13 left in the game.
Jack Welti scored 13 points, including nine in the first quarter when Bound Brook opened a 17-11 lead and looked primed to roll out another one of those wide-margin victories that has become the overriding theme of this season.
But young, determined Rutgers Prep--which starts four sophomores and a senior--offered resistance unlike any the Crusaders had seen all winter. The Argonauts defended aggressively out of their matchup zone, rebounded, ran the floor with confidence and had Bound Brook back on its heels on several occasions.
Bound Brook's foul trouble did not exactly boost self-confidence. Leon Johnson, a 6-7 center, sat over 13 minutes between the second and third quarters after committing his third foul with 5:4 to go in the second. J.D. Rodriguez, a senior point guard, picked up his fourth foul with 1:44 to go in the third quarter and with Rutgers Prep in front, 43-37.
As favorable as that scenario was for Rutgers Prep (12-5) the Argonauts were unable to overcome inexperience with the tension mounting late in the game and the large, energized crowd laying down a raucous soundtrack to the drama.
"The youth kind of got to us toward the end of the game," sophomore forward s Karl Charles said. He scored 15 points and pulled down nine rebounds for Rutgers Prep while teammates Nick Brooks and Levi Holmes, also sophomores, netted 16 points each.
"It was the inexperience, deer-in-the-headlights sort f thing for us. We've never seen any of this, ever; not AAU, not anything. But we don't make excuses because we're underclassmen. We have to learn from this."
Bound Brook, on the other hand, was able to call upon its vast senior leadership down the stretch, even though those upperclassmen hadn't faced a clutch situation since they were juniors.
Bound Brook defeated its first 18 opponents by an average score of 78-47 and no team before Rutgers Prep had finished within 12 points of the Crusaders.
So, then here came Rutgers Prep, haughtily defying the longstanding memo on early capitulation by grabbing a nine-point lead twice in the third quarter, 39-30, after four straight points from Jadon Robinson, and 46-37 with 1:44 to go after a three-point play by Brooks.
"Coach was always telling us, we haven't really faced pressure yet, but when we do, we have to be ready to handle it," Capellan said. "We practice it all the time. We practice being down by 10 and then we have to come back and win."
That particular exercise must be one Holliday takes seriously, because he responded to the deficit as if he fought through them on a regular basis.
He scored four points in the final 1:02 of the third quarter on a floater and a pull-up jumper to bring the Crusaders to within 47-43, and he opened the fourth quarter with two free throws after drawing contact on a drive in the lane.
"Ricky did a great job," Capellan said. "He took it to the basket and knew when to kick it out and when to take it in and look to draw the foul. "
Johnson hit a putback with 5:59 left to tie the game at 47-47, but Holmes sank a 3-pointer 23 seconds later for a 3-point Rutgers Prep lead. Holliday hit one of two from the line after another drive with 5:20 remaining and knotted the score at 50-50 off a feed by Rodriguez with 4:55 to go.
On the next possession, Holliday passed to a wide-open Capellan in the right corner and he converted for a three-point lead. Brooks brought the Argonauts to within one on a driving layup, but Welti was fouled attempting a 3-pointer and sank all three free throws for a 56-52 lead with 2:16 left. Holliday increased the gap to six by sinking two free throws with 57 seconds remaining.
"With the foul trouble and everything, we all had to have each other's back," Capellan said. He is signed with Georgian Court for next year along with Rodriguez, and Welti has issued a verbal to the Ocean County school and intends on signing his letter of intent in April.
"JD was in foul trouble, Leon was in foul trouble, and the only way we were gonna get through this was to stick together," he said. "Thank God coach took JD out on defense and put him back on offense because we needed him."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS