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Things are definitely looking up for East Orange Campus Jaguars basketball as coach Billy Lovett's squad takes on an ambitious schedule in addition to what it will face in SEC-Liberty this winter. (photos courtesy of Coach Lovett)

East Orange has risen quickly on Essex scene under second-year coach Billy Lovett as the team seeks a Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division crown.

East Orange Has Ambitious Slate
Beginning With Hoop Group Tilt
..Jaguars Almost Pull Off Upset Of Paterson Eastside

By Aaron Matthews
For sidelinechatter.com

WEST ORANGE - Before the season, East Orange put together an ambitious schedule in hopes of taking the next step towards regaining its status as one of New Jersey’s premier public school programs.

Saturday’s HoopGroup Tip Off Showcase served as the first test of a daunting series of tests for this Jaguars squad and it was a test they passed in nearly every aspect.

Except for the final score.

Asem Johnson hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer was the difference as Paterson Eastside defeated East Orange, 52-49, spoiling the Jaguars’ hopes of an early-season upset against the reigning Passaic County Tournament and North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 champions.

Johnson, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half, was named MVP for the Ghosts. Point guard Jeff Duvinston had 11 points and was selected as the team MVP for East Orange (1-1).

“It’s heartbreaking, a tough, tough loss, but it shows how far the program has come in two years. Last year, we wouldn’t even be close to being in this type of game,” East Orange coach Billy Lovett said. “The guys are playing hard, they’ve all come back and we want to play in those type of games and compete with those teams. We look forward to seeing them again, hopefully in the state sectional championship.

“This would have been a great win for these kids and the program to show how far we’ve come. Hopefully we’ll get another chance on the big stage.”

Leading for the entire game, East Orange fell behind for the first time when Marlon Ebanks’ 3-pointer gave Paterson Eastside a 44-43 lead with 5:09 remaining. Consecutive buckets from Ebanks and Johnson increased the Paterson Eastside (1-1) lead to four with 2:21 left.

The Jaguars answered back. Aaron Broxton’s layup cut the deficit in half, then, after a missed dunk by Johnson, Aaron Clark tied the game at 49-49 on a put-back with 54 seconds remaining.

It appeared the Ghosts weren’t even going to get a shot off before the end of regulation, but Nhazir Smith found Johnson, who launched the winning shot with a Marquise Kindel hand in his face and was then mobbed by his teammates.

“If he took that shot 100 times, I don’t think he makes it again,” Lovett said. “It was a shot from just inside half court that was contested and from a coach's’ point of view it was a shot I would take. Defensively, we did everything that we needed to do. He had luck on his side and the ball went in.”

In the beginning, East Orange couldn’t have written a better script to Saturday’s contest, scoring the game’s first 13 points. The Jaguars’ press and 2-2-1 zone defense forced six Paterson Eastside turnovers in that opening six-minute stretch with Duvinston leading the way with six points and two steals during the run.

“Coach has been helping us a lot in practice and encouraging us that we can play on a high level,” Duvinston said. “Since he’s been saying that, it’s been coming and coming and coming and then we were like ‘woah we can compete with these guys,’ and we were started rolling.”

The East Orange lead grew to as many as 15 points in the first half, but Smith drained an open 3-pointer at the second quarter buzzer to cut the deficit to 12. In the third quarter, a strong defensive effort spearheaded a 12-3 Ghosts run capped off by two Ebanks free throws to make it 32-31 with 2:04 left in the period.

“We really wanted this one, it was a big one for us,” said Broxton, who had two points and three steals. “We made a couple of mistakes out there that we can fix. Hopefully, we’ll see them again in March.”

“For us, in this game, it was some of the little things that hurt us,” Lovett said.”We missed some crucial foul shots and I’ve been preaching to them since day one, the little things will win or lose games. Rebounds, foul shots and turnovers.”

Ebanks led all scorers with 19 points and added five rebounds. Smith scored eight points and former Irvington standout Shakur Juiston had five points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

Samuel Pierre scored nine points for East Orange while Marquise Kindel and Clark had eight apiece. Denzel Banks added five points, seven rebounds and four steals off the bench.

“We’re getting there. As the season progresses, we’re going to get better and better,” Duvinston said. “When March comes, they’ll know who East Orange is.”

NOTES: Paterson Eastside is ranked No. 11 in the state by The Star-Ledger/NJ.com and is considered the favorite to win a strong North 1, Group 4 section, which also includes East Orange, Paterson Kennedy, Bloomfield, West Orange, Hackensack and Union City. Saturday’s game against Paterson Eastside was the first of three games East Orange will play against a team that won a county championship last season. The Jaguars will also play Bergen County Jamboree champs Teaneck on Jan. 4 and Hudson County champions Hudson Catholic on Jan. 17. In addition, East Orange will host Brooklyn, NY power Lincoln on Jan. 10. On Friday night, the Jaguars opened their season with a 66-60 victory over SEC Liberty Division rival Newark Central. East Orange returns its top seven scorers from last season’s team, which went 16-9 and shared the Liberty Division title with University and Orange.

PATERSON EASTSIDE (1-1) 5 11 17 19 - 52

EAST ORANGE (1-1) 13 15 10 11 - 49

Paterson Eastside: Nhazir Smith 1-1-3-8, Asem Johnson 3-1-3-12, Shakur Juiston 2-0-1-5, Tymere McMillian 0-0-0-0, Terrel Griffin 0-0-0-0, Marlon Ebanks 3-3-4-19, Marquel Sheffield 1-0-2-4, Thankgod Okenwa 2-0-0-4. Total: 12-5-13-52.

East Orange: Jeff Duvinston 4-0-3-11, Jordan Taylor 0-1-0-3, Aaron Broxton 1-0-0-2, Marquise Kindel 2-0-4-8, Chukwudi Obi 0-0-0-0, Denzel Banks 2-0-1-5, Samuel Pierre 3-1-0-9, Darius Moses 0-0-1-1, Greg Robinson 1-0-0-2, Aaron Clark 4-0-0-8. Total: 17-2-9-49.

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