EDISON - The hunt is still on for the St. Joseph (Met.) basketball team.
The third-seeded Falcons advanced back to the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament semifinals with a 69-61 victory over sixth-seeded Carteret on Sunday at Middlesex County College.
St. Joseph (15-8) will face second-seeded Colonia in the semifinals at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at New Brunswick High School. The final is set for 8 p.m. Friday back at Middlesex County College.
The Falcons are on a quest to make it to their 12th-straight county final. St. Joseph won its third-straight title and eighth in nine years last year with a 46-43 win over Colonia last season.
"We knew we had to work hard because they're not a team that's just going to roll over and give us the game," St. Joseph's Jack Hogarty said. "So we we knew we had to play 100 percent every minute and not let off the pedal, so we just had to stay together as a team."
Sunday's game was a rematch of last year's semifinal in which the Falcons dealt Carteret (15-7) a 62-60 loss with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
This time around, a buzzer-beater wasn't necessary, but that didn't make it any less of a nail-biter. Down 49-44 at the end of the third quarter, Carteret went on a 10-2 run to open the fourth capped by a 3-pointer by Jahlil Nix to tie the game 54-54 with 4:26 remaining.
"We knew that they're a team that fights off runs and the crowd can get noisy, so we knew just stay together, have faith in one another and we're going to be fine," St. Joseph's K-Shawn Schulters said.
St. Joseph answered with a 6-0 run to take a 60-54 lead with 3:16 to play, but a free throw by Starrell Hearns and a putback by Camron McCargo pulled the Ramblers back within three, 60-57, with three minutes to play.
In the final 2:21, St. Joseph outscored Carteret 9-4 for the 69-61 final. The Ramblers were held scoreless in the final 1:26.
"That's been our expectation since the beginning of the season, to get back to the GMC final and take back our championship," Hogarty said.
The Falcons opened the game on a 8-0 run, but Carteret came back and trailed 15-13 at the end of the first quarter. There were two ties in the second quarter, with the Rambers tying the game 26-26 on two free throws by Timothy Ellis with 1:34 left.
A free throw Tyree Taganeca-Ford put St. Joseph back on top, 27-26, but a 3 from Nix gave Carteret its first lead since the first quarter, 29-27, with 36.4 seconds left. A basket from Schulters retied the game 29-29, but Ellis was fouled on 3-pointer with .4 seconds left. He made two of the three and the Ramblers led 31-29 at the half.
Carteret stretched its lead to 40-32 with 6:04 remaining in the third quarter, but the Falcons went on a 9-2 to climb to within 42-41 with 3:42 left. Two free throws from Ellis again put the Ramblers ahead 44-41, but another 8-0 run put the Falcons ahead 49-44 after three.
"I think we really came together when we went down, whatever it was, four or five, we didn't freak, we stayed calm and we went back to the fundamentals and what we're used to and that's when came back," Granito said.
Schulters led St. Joseph with 16 points, two steals and one assist. Taganeca-Ford added 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists and one steal. Luke Fresco contributed 15 points, three steals and one rebound. Howard McBurnie chipped in 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals.
For Carteret, Nix led with a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds. Ellis and McCargo (five rebounds) each scored 13 points.
St. Joseph found itself in foul trouble the second half, but having Hogarty and Ryan Granito come off the bench helped the Falcons stay in the game.
"That's a position we've been in before, where me and Jack are used to seeing guys in foul trouble, coming off the bench," Granito said. "What really was working for us was when I think we put on the press and it got a lot of energy, we got steals and runs, and I think that really fueled us, the crowd, and we just fed off it."