EAST BRUNSWICK — With an extra emphasis on boxing out and limiting second chances, the East Brunswick High School girls basketball team scored a big victory Thursday night.
Despite being the smaller of the two teams on the court, East Brunswick outrebounded South Brunswick 28-18 and jumped out to an early lead en route to a 41-24 win.
East Brunswick (11-2) head coach Keith Lane has said all season that his squad is becoming more and more comfortable with one another and that showed Thursday, as defensive rotations were crisp and passes were on the money in transition for easy baskets.
“We are playing very, very well as a team right now,” Lane said. “We have good team chemistry and a lot of girls with varsity experience and we’re really playing together.”
The Bears raced out to a 24-13 halftime advantage, thanks in large part to junior Julia Simoes’ three 3-pointers. Six different players scored in the opening 16 minutes, led by Simoes’ nine.
“We got the lead early so we were more settled and when the shots fall, everybody is in a better mood and has a better outlook,” Simoes said. “Everyone was making shots and this was really a group effort tonight.”
Simoes noted that the focus on the defensive end was to limit South Brunswick’s top scoring threat, Jackie Siva-Harrison. Despite scoring 13 points for the game, Siva-Harrison was pressured throughout and made just a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter.
“We focused on Jackie and played a couple of different coverages on her and that worked pretty well,” Simoes said. “We’ve been focusing on defense at practice a lot and it paid off tonight.”
The two teams played for the All-Brunswick Tournament title on Dec. 28, with South Brunswick (8-4) winning 35-24. In that matchup, East Brunswick’s Dayna Sclafani scored just five points and pulled in just three rebounds. Thursday, Sclafani scored a team-high 13 points and hauled down seven boards.
“Since it was the beginning of the season when we played them the first time, we weren’t quite prepared,” Sclafani said. “I don’t think everyone was really focused, but we came into this one knowing we could win. This game means a lot to us; South Brunswick is a good team, but we were able to come out with a big win.”
Sclafani said that the third quarter has been her team’s achillies heel all season long, but the junior scored seven of her points in the stanza and East Brunswick weathered a more aggressive South Brunswick offense.
“We told each other at halftime that we needed to push it, knowing how good South Brunswick is. Everyone was focused in that third quarter and we were able to pull it out,” Sclafani said.
East Brunswick shot 15-47 (31.9 percent) as a team, but Sclafani made 7-8 free throws – the only ones the Bears shot in the game – and won the rebounding battle by simply being more aggressive when the ball was in the air.
“We work on rebounding and boxing out a lot. We put a heavy precedence on it,” Lane said. “Offensive rebounds are key for what we do and we knew that we needed to limit them to one shot and not allow extra chances.”
The Bears are now a half-game ahead of South Brunswick in the Red Division race.