TRENTON — The goal all season long for the St. Joseph High School boys basketball team has been to reach the New Jersey mountain top. Monday night, the Falcons did just that, reaching the summit in a thrilling 49-47 victory over Newark East Side in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions Final at the Sun National Bank Center.
The championship is the first by a Middlesex County boys team in the Tournament of Champions, erasing the sour memory of last year’s 65-49 debacle against Roselle Catholic on the same court that gave “The Big Three” of Wade Baldwin, Marques Townes and Karl Towns extra motivation in their senior seasons.
“Last year we lost to a tough team and we made it our goal and mindset that we wanted to be T of C champions,” Townes said. “We prided ourselves on that and we came out here and showed what we worked for. I’m proud of every single one of these guys.”
Townes finished with a team-high 11 points, including 3-for-4 free throws in the final minute to keep East Side at arm’s length. The Vanderbilt-bound Baldwin battled some inconsistency throughout the night, scoring 10 points and five rebounds, but ended his career with a victory along with his star-studded teammates to cap a season in which only one result would have sufficed.
“It was T of C or bust for us,” Baldwin said. “It was a failed season if we didn’t win.”
But the Falcons did win, even with Towns struggling throughout the night with foul trouble. The University of Kentucky-bound center finished with just eight points and nine rebounds, but his presence inside helped keep the dream alive to win that elusive T of C title for St. Joseph.
“I always wanted to win this one,” Towns said. “I’m real glad that we were able to accomplish something so meaningful. I wanted to win the T of C and I’m glad that I was able to fulfill my promise to coach Turco with this win.”
Turco noted that the experience his group earned last season in the loss to Roselle Catholic helped immensely in the opening quarter, as the Falcons jumped out to a 19-7 lead after eight minutes, with one of the “Little Two,” Breein Tyree, scoring eight points in the quarter.
East Side had the game’s last shot in the final seconds, but a long 3-pointer clanged off the rim and “The Big Three” finally had the elusive T of C title.