Lyndhurst head coach Perrin Mosca knew he was inheriting a team short on experience and recent success when he took over as the boys basketball coach in September. But he also saw a group that while young, had the size and athleticism to potentially surprise people in the NJIC.
After nine games, no one should be surprised anymore.
The Golden Bears sport a stellar 7-2 record following Sunday’s 72-60 victory over Becton at the South Bergen Classic. Lyndhurst finds itself in a three-way tie for first place in the NJIC National Division standings with Weehawken and Rutherford at 4-1.
“Coming in, I knew we had some athletes and players, but we didn’t have much experience,” said Mosca, who previously served as Lyndhurst’s girls coach. “But you know what, they’re playing loose out there, they’re having fun out there and they’re out-working people on the defensive end. It’s just coming together for them right now.”
So far, Lyndhurst has been one of the league’s more dynamic offenses, averaging 65.2 points per game. At the forefront of that offense has been junior Anthony Pizzuti, one of Bergen County’s most improved players.
The 6-foot-3 forward is averaging an eye-popping 17.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
“Offensively he just explodes when he jumps. He gets up really fast on rebounds, he’s very strong on the offensive glass and he gets a lot of points off put-backs,” Mosca said. “He’s very strong when he has the ball, he rarely loses the ball and they’re all over him. He also does a great job of breaking presses for us because he’s a great ball-handler for us.”
Six-foot-2 senior Ricky Pizzuti is at the other forward spot and is averaging 7.1 points per game in his first year of varsity.
Lyndhurst’s size extends to the wings and backcourt as well. Junior guard Matt Slaby (6-foot-4) does a little bit of everything for the Golden Bears, averaging 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Slaby, who plays down low as part of Lyndhurst’s zone defense has been especially critical the last two games, getting nine assists against Rutherford this past Friday, then matching his career-high with 25 points on Sunday at Becton.
“These last two games against Rutherford and Becton, he’s just been amazing,” said Mosca. “He’s very patient with the ball so he doesn’t get flustered when he’s doubled, he can see over people.”
Another junior, 6-foot-1 Jake Mayer is the main point guard, averaging 9.7 points and 4.6 assists per game, while also usually being matched up against the opposing team’s top offensive player.
“He does a great job on the defensive end for us and he’s hit some big threes for us as well,” Mosca said. “He does a little bit of everything for us.”
Another big guard, 6-foot-3 junior CJ Baillie is averaging 9.6 points per game. While Baillie has been effective getting to the basket, Mosca believes the best is yet to come from the guard, especially from the perimeter.
Among the top players off the bench for Lyndhurst so far have been sophomore forward Shawn Bellenger and a trio of senior guards in Isaiah Alvarado, Gabe Gomez and Jose Baca. Three more seniors – Keith Jones, Ryan Batista and Leo Rodriguez have also seen time in the backcourt early on.
Thanks to their hot start, the Golden Bears are in a position to potentially qualify for a spot in the Bergen County Jamboree for the first time since 2018. But in order to keep those hopes alive, Lyndhurst knows it has to continue to build upon its fast start, beginning with a road tilt at Cresskill on Wednesday followed by a home matchup with Hawthorne on Friday.
“At the beginning our goal was to win the league title and the second goal was to make the County Tournament,” said Mosca. “A .650 winning percentage (at the cutoff) gets you in, so every game counts.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)