South Brunswick stuns Marlboro with buzzer-beater to win Central Jersey Group 4 title
MARLBORO – There wasn’t much Mike Nausedas could say to his team to ease the heartbreak. Not with how close the Mustangs came to making history on Tuesday night.
A jump shot by Jack Seidler left Marlboro 16 seconds and one defensive stop away from its first sectional title, but the celebration that transpired shortly after was not the one it hoped for.
Alex Strange found Yathin Vemula all alone under the basket and the sophomore guard converted a layup to beat the buzzer and give South Brunswick a 72-71 victory to stun Marlboro and give the Vikings the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 sectional title.
“All credit to those guys, they made a hell of a play at the end,” said Marlboro head coach Mike Nausedas. “They showed great poise to make that shot so congratulations to them.”
In a back-and-forth final two minutes, South Brunswick had taken a 70-69 lead on a pair of free throws by senior guard Devin Strickland. Marlboro then took a 71-70 lead when Seidler grabbed the rebound off a missed three-point attempt by senior Alex Ratner and converted a 6-footer to give Marlboro a 71-70 lead. With time ticking down, the Vikings showed great patience to work for an open shot and win their first sectional title since 2007.
“This is what we practice, late-game situations, and we remained calm,” Vemula said. “It’s crazy. I dreamed about this. Everyone running at you, it’s a beautiful thing.”
“We hit that shot at the end and we thought we had it,” Nausedas said. “We came down here in man, got out of that zone, and they just made a great play.”
Strickland and senior guard Justin Carbone led South Brunswick with 28 points each. Strickland was a force in the paint in converting 12 of his 14 attempts. Carbone shot just 6 of 14 in the first but was an efficient 5 of 9 in the second half and connected on 3 of 8 three-points for the game.
Marlboro had four of its five starters in double figures with junior Aleksey Friedman scoring a team-high 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting, including 3 of 6 from three-point range. Seidler scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half while sophomore Jonathan Spatola scored 13 points and sophomore Jay Ratner added 11. Alex Ratner added eight points.
Marlboro got off to a fast start with a 12-2 run to open the game but South Brunswick quickly got its feet under itself to pull within 14-12 midway through the first quarter. It was tight from there with Marlboro leading 21-18 after one.
It was more of the same in the second quarter with the Mustangs holding a lead throughout. Marlboro had a 6-0 run and a 38-31 lead until three-pointer at the buzzer by Ty Murchison cut Marlboro’s lead to 38-34 at halftime.
Marlboro threatened to break the game open early in the third quarter with an 8-0 run to begin the half and forge a 46-34 lead, the biggest advantage for either team. But then South Brunswick started knocking down shots and ratcheting up the pressure on the defensive end. Down 49-39, the Vikings went on a 9-0 run to cut Marlboro’s lead to 49-48. South Brunswick then overtook the Mustangs in the final seconds of the third quarter when a layup by Strickland gave South Brunswick a 53-52 lead, its first of the game.
“Their pressure and trapping kind of rattled us a little bit and we never get rattled,” Nausedas said. “We never get pressured but we threw the ball away a bit and they turned us over.”
The fourth quarter was a frenetic fight to the very end. Marlboro came back to take a 56-53, pushed the advantage to 61-55 and then went up 64-57 when Alex Ratner put back a rebound off an off-the-mark three by Jay Ratner and was fouled on the play. He converted the free throw for a seven-point Marlboro lead with 4:32 to play.
Marlboro held that short lead until Vemula hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to give South Brunswick a 68-67 lead with under two minutes to play. Marlboro went ahead, 69-68, when Friedman found a cutting Jay Ratner to give the Mustangs a one-point edge with 1:12 to play. Strickland was fouled on a layup attempt with 37.1 seconds left and made both free throws to give the Vikings a 70-69 lead and set up the wild closing sequence. Strickland had missed two free throws with 1:31 left.
“After missing those first two I knew I had to stay confident,” Strickland said. “I had to come back and make those next two.”
It was a great season, historic actually, for Marlboro. At some point, that will sink in but on Tuesday night it was tough to think about anything other than what might have been.
“It’s so hard because we built this for the last eight years to get to this point,” Nausedas said. “It’s the best team in school history, the first time in a (sectional) final, top five in the Shore. We have to look at all the great things we did. There are so many positives with this group.”
The silver lining is that Marlboro will return four of its five starters, but the one loss is a big one.
“(Alex Ratner) is the best player to ever come through here and he’ll never be forgotten,” Nausedas said. “He’s our all-time leading scorer and one of the best leaders we’ve ever had in this program. He learned that from PJ Ringel, who took him under his wing when he was part of that run in the Shore Conference (2017).”
With a pair of 20-point scorers in Friedman and Seidler plus Spatola and Jay Ratner along with reserves Nick Malucelli and Zack Molod returning next year, the Mustangs are planning on being a championship threat for the next few years.
“This group has a lot of potential going forward,” Nausedas said. “When this all settles they’ll be excited about what they accomplished but this feeling, it doesn’t taste good and it makes you work harder to get past this point.”
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