Rutherford NJ- It was more than a consolation game. The third place game in the NJIC Tournament was significant to both coaches. For Lyndhurst’s Perrin Mosca, an opportunity for another solid win. Brian Gaccione of St. Mary saw it as yet another test in a season with a number of them out of conference.
St. Mary was challenged and prevailed 63-52. Thursday’s game at the George Vuyosevich Memorial Gym saw the Gaels improve to 17-6 while Lyndhurst is now 16-7.
The first period saw the hosts get out to a 16-9 lead. The 15 possession period saw the Gaels post a 107 offensive efficiency (points divided by possessions) while Lyndhurst checked in at 60. Both teams took care of the ball with St. Mary committing two turnovers and Lyndhurst one.
St. Mary increased the lead to 25-15 early in the second period before the visiting Golden Bears scored six straight to draw within four. Gaccione implored his team to rebound. The Gaels had size but were getting outworked on the boards. A last second field goal gave the Gaels a 29-26 lead at the half.
The first four minutes following halftime, per the coaching axiom, are crucial. St. Mary ‘won’ those first four 10-2 increasing the lead to 39-28. The rebounding, on both ends, and by Victor Torres on the offensive glass, improved significantly for the Gaels. Entering the final period Gaccione’s group now had a 10 point lead.
Lyndhurst employed a 2-3 zone with the top two frequently picking up at half court. Senior guard Luke Gaccione scored five points for the Gaels. His value lie in distributing. Gaccione ensured the ball would move against the zone and frequently drove baseline and dished off to an open teammate in the lane. A 10-2 Gael run increased the lead to 18 with five minutes remaining. Lyndhurst kept after it, closing out strong, burying a few from beyond the arc, but the Gaels were never threatened those final eight minutes.
Torres led all scorers with 18 points. The senior center added 10 rebounds. Sammy Tornabene added 17 with five boards and two blocks and L.J. Falconi had 12. Lyndhurst was paced by Matt Slaby’s 16 points. Johnny Chaname scored 12 and Jack Nowinski 11.
Lyndhurst was without the services of Anthony Pizzuti. The prolific scoring senior played hurt in Tuesday’s NJIC semifinal loss to Paterson Charter and did not suit up Thursday. Gaccione lamented the absence of Pizzuti, missing out on having his team face him. "You lose a 24 point per game scorer," Gaccione said, "and it certainly affects your team." Mosca gave no excuses being without Pizzuti;s services. "We played hard but not smart," the coach said. "We threw the ball away a number of times but our kids deserve credit, we were down a lot but kept after it." Slaby had a strong outing, hitting a few from midrange and inside. "He did miss some layups (credit Torres inside presence on defense for some of that)," Mosca said, "but he did a good job for us."
For Gaccione and the Gaels one of the toughest tasks was getting over Tuesday’s buzzer-beating semifinal loss to Glen Rock, a team they defeated on the road back in December. "It was an emotional loss (Tuesday)," Gaccione admitted. "Yesterday we gathered the kids at practice and said you need a short term memory especially with Lyndhurst next." Gaccione was pleased his team utilized their size advantage and rebounded (at his ‘urging’) better the second half. He was also pleased with the Gaels attacking the zone. "We emphasized not to take the first shot available," he said. "Be patient and move the ball."
Mosca felt this might have been a significant win for his group. "This could have helped our state tournament seeding," he said. "We want to have as high a seeding as possible." Lyndhurst has three games remaining on the schedule beginning with a Saturday meeting against Dwight-Englewood.
Gaccione's team has lined up against an arduous non-league slate that has included the likes of Don Bosco (twice) and Hudson Catholic . Friday night they were set to host a good St. Joseph (Montvale) team, making it an NBA-like three games in four days for the Gaels "With the state’s scheduling format a lot of teams are playing with less practices," Gaccione said. "We purposely schedule tough games to give our kids a chance to be seen by colleges and expose them to the best competition out there."