WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — Back on Jan. 17, the Washington Township boys basketball team lost by eight points at Kingsway, and ever since the Minutemen have been chasing the Dragons in the Tri-County Conference’s Royal Division race.
The defending division champs nearly caught up to them on Tuesday night, as Township scored a 54-45 win over Kingsway to pull just a half-game short of the division-leading Dragons. Township now needs some help from Clearview — if the Pioneers can knock off Kingsway on Thursday night, the Minutemen will earn a share of the division title along with Kingsway and Clearview.
Leading scorer Gevon Conrad led the way with 20 points and five assists, while Ethan Hyman — on Senior Night — came up big with 11 points, six rebounds and an assist.
“We needed that win bad for the division,” Conrad said. “My team depended on me, and it took all of us. Everybody chipped in. My teammates gave me some wide-open shots.”
“They hit a lot of threes on us the last game and they had a lot of offensive rebounds, but I feel like we locked them down harder this time. This game meant more to me (as a senior),” Hyman said. “We talked about how we really needed this win and we’re hoping Clearview can go out and get a win. I think we played some of our best basketball tonight. We worked hard as a group, and I think we just wanted it more. I feel like we’re pretty good right now, and we’re ready for anything. I feel like we worked hard on rebounding. We wanted it. We couldn’t take another loss against these guys. They’re a great group of basketball players, but we needed this. I know all these seniors want a divisional championship.”
Township (12-9, 6-2 Tri-County Royal) took an early 22-14 lead when Conrad scored on an acrobatic layup early in the second quarter, but Kingsway (11-11, 6-1 Tri-County Royal) was eventually able to tie the game, 22-22, heading into halftime. Things changed in the third quarter, however, as Washington Township outscored the Dragons 16-6 to take a 38-28 lead.
Luke McKenty hit a baseline jumper and Conrad converted an old-fashioned 3-point play as part of a 9-0 run that gave the Minutemen a 36-25 lead.
“The thing that I’m happiest about is this team competes every time they play. Tonight, we embraced the defensive aspect — especially in the third quarter, outscoring them 16-6. We challenged the team at halftime to grind it out and win the game on defense, and they did that,” said Township coach Todd Powers. “Kingsway is a very good basketball team. They’ve been a really good basketball team in Group 4, a really good team in the Tri-County, so we had to exhaust everything tonight to get the win. I’m very pleased and happy for the seniors, who got in there and set the tone early. I told them, ‘you’re capable varsity basketball players, you go in there, you play hard, you execute the game plan and get us off to a good start.’ And they did. It was a really nice team win. We shot 6-of-8 from the line in the fourth quarter and that’s something that’s been a little bit of an Achilles heel for us recently. But the difficult nonconference games we’ve played is going to prepare us for the Tri-County Tournament and South Jersey Group 4.”
Kingsway didn’t quit, though, as the Dragons went on a 12-6 spurt to start the fourth quarter and pull within 44-40. But A’Quill Taylor nailed a baseline jumper to extend the Township lead to 46-40 with a little more than three minutes left, and the Minutemen were able to seal the game from the free-throw line. Kingsway’s Shawn Steckler hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left to make it 48-43, but the Dragons simply ran out of possessions.
Conrad had just seven points in the first half, but came alive in the second half, including scoring eight points in the fourth quarter.
“He’s amazing,” said Hyman. “He’s definitely one of the best basketball players I’ve ever played with. It’s his speed. I think he’s one of the fastest players in South Jersey, and I’ve never seen speed like that. He also has a great pull-up shot, he can get to the rack — he has a big bag, a lot of moves.”
Hyman was a big reason for Township getting off to a good start, as he scored nine of his 11 points in the first half.
“He’s the captain and a fantastic leader — not only what he does on the basketball court, but what he does behind the scenes. We’re in constant communication and he epitomizes what a captain should be,” Powers said of Hyman. “He does the dirty work and he’s a guy who — to the non-trained basketball eye, ah, he only gets five points and five rebounds a game. But it’s the other things, setting screens, boxing out, all those little things that people who know basketball will say, ‘he’s a really good basketball player.’ He’s waited his turn for three years and to play a solid game like that on Senior Night, I’m extremely proud of him. I wish I had another year with him.”
Kingsway was without leading scorer Christian Conklin, who scored 30 points in the teams’ previous meeting. He’s nursing an ankle injury and could return against Clearview on Thursday. In his absence, Maurice Tavares Jr. led the way with three 3-pointers and a team-high 17 points. Peter Frey added eight points and four rebounds for the Dragons.
Township has a couple more regular-season games this week before turning its attention to Highland in the Tri-County Tournament on Monday.
“If we play the basketball that we know we can, and that we train for every day, I think we can make some noise (in the postseason),” Hyman said.
“I said to our guys, ‘you want to be the team that nobody wants to play this time of year.’ And to do that we need to tighten up on defense and take what’s given to us on the offensive end,” Powers said. “So many people are focusing on Gevon, so other people have to make plays. And even in the games we’ve lost, other players have done that. We’re going to have to be a complete unit to make some noise in the playoffs.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Washington Township hosts Woodstown on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Kingsway hosts Clearview on Thursday at 6 p.m.
Sully, as he’s known throughout South Jersey, began his newspaper career in 1995 and has worked for some of New Jersey’s top papers, including The Asbury Park Press and Press of Atlantic City, as a writer and editor. He’s earned several New Jersey Press Association awards and continues to produce high quality reporting, writing and photography.
A native of Ocean County, Sully played high school baseball at Lacey Township High and college baseball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. After a successful 15-year career in the newspaper business, Sully launched Glory Days Magazine in 2013 and for nearly a decade has been bringing fans outstanding and insightful coverage of high school sports throughout South Jersey.