WEST LONG BRANCH — Despite playing just 22 minutes, St. Joseph High School boys basketball star Karl Towns poured in 24 points and hauled in 12 rebounds to lead the Falcons (27-4) past Atlantic City 63-49 in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals Friday night at Monmouth University.
Towns picked up two quick fouls in the opening quarter, forcing St. Joseph head coach Dave Turco to protect his 7-footer by subbing him out when the Falcons were on defense and re-inserting him when the Non Public A champions were on offense.
“Obviously we have a trump card; we have something nobody else has in Karl,” Turco said. “He gives us a huge advantage, but we feed off of the amount of attention he draws.”
The sophomore center who has already committed to play at the University of Kentucky, made 10 of 16 shots from the field and knocked down 4 of 5 free throws, but he knew that he needed to remain poised and focused on working down low and not hanging out around the 3-point line.
“I just played with a lot of energy and I tried to make sure I was in the right positions,” Towns said. “I worked really hard with Coach Turco to make sure I was in the right places and in the post more as opposed to hanging out around the 3-point line. I tried to make sure I was in the post a lot tonight because we have guys like Wade [Baldwin] and Marques [Townes] that can take care of the outside shooting. I don’t have to worry about being out there.”
Towns attempted just one 3-pointer in the contest and stuck to pounding away inside the paint. Of his five free throw attempts, three came after he was fouled making a shot within five feet of the hoop.
But Turco needed to monitor the time that Towns spent on the bench after he picked up his fourth foul with 6:17 remaining in the fourth quarter. Towns sat for the next three minutes and returned to help lead St. Joseph into their first Tournament of Champions final.
In a game that saw the lead change hands seven times, Towns had the final say, erasing any hope of an Atlantic City comeback with four blocks, including two down the stretch.
“I’m so proud of these guys for the way that they played tonight,” Towns said. “We play top-notch defense and people forget that sometimes.”
The “Big 3” of Wade Baldwin, Marques Townes and Towns combined for 49 of St. Joseph’s 63 points on the night and the trio went 22-for-44 from the floor.
“When Karl comes back after sitting on the bench, it’s just another boom to our lineup,” Baldwin said.
Towns will enter the Tournament of Champions final on Tuesday just five points shy of 1,000 for his career. He’d become the third member of this current St. Joseph squad to reach that plateau, joining Baldwin and Townes, who both went over the 1,000-point mark during this season.