FLEMINGTON, NJ — In the third close game between the teams in this shortened boys basketball season, Watchung Hills got the better of Hunterdon Central on Tuesday with a 46-43 victory over the Red Devils.
The victory came in the quarterfinal round of the Skyland Conference divisional tournament, and it followed two close Hunterdon Central victories over Watchung Hills by scores of 58-53 in February and 67-65 last week.
Tuesday's Watchung Hills victory was the most deliberately paced of the three showdowns between these two usually uptempo teams. Chad Martini sank two foul shots with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors a 43-41 lead. Elijah Lewis added a free throw for a 44-41 Watchung Hills lead.
Hunterdon Central (9-3) scored six straight points late in the first half to open a 24-19 lead on a driving basket in transition by Eric Molto, a rebound basket by Brian Johansson and a fastbreak bucket by Matt Ciszkowski. Watchung Hills (10-3) scored the last points of the half to close to within 24-21, and neither team ever had more than a two-possession lead the rest of the way.
With Watchung Hills ahead by a point early in the fourth quarter, Charles Gillikin sank a baseline 3-pointer off a kickout pass from Connor Hercek to give the Red Devils a 36-34 lead. After Watchung Hills tied it on a Martini layup, Hunterdon Central went back up by three, 39-36, on a virtually identical Gillikin 3-pointer.
The Warriors scored the next five points for a 41-39 lead. Johansson hit a pair of free throws with 2:44 left in the game to re-tie it, 41-41, but Watchung Hills outscored the home team, 5-2 in the last 1:49 to pull it out.
Johansson finished with 13 points and seven rebounds and Ciszkowski had 11 points, four rebounds and two assists for Hunterdon Central. Brian Hopwood led Watchung Hills with 15 points.
Watchung Hills will move on to face Gill-St. Bernard's in the semifinals. Hunterdon Central will have a to-be-announced conference consolation game on Thursday.