Category Archives: Boys Basketball

St. Joseph reaches top of the mountain

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.

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Smith’s shot lifts Hillsborough to upset of Gill St. Bernard’s in Somerset County Boys Basketball Tournament final

The Hillsborough boys basketball team celebrates its title in the Somerset County Boys Basketball Tournament. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

The Hillsborough boys basketball team celebrates its title in the Somerset County Boys Basketball Tournament. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

FRANKLIN (SOMERSET) — With less than 40 seconds remaining in overtime and the game tied, James Smith came up with the shot of his life.

The senior point guard knocked down a jump shot just inside of the arc to give the Hillsborough High School boys basketball team its 11th and final lead of the game, and the Raiders’ defense held in the final seconds to win its first Somerset County Tournament title, 53-52, over Gill St. Bernard’s in overtime Saturday afternoon.

Smith finished with a team-high 14 points, with half of them coming in the fourth quarter and overtime, and was named as the Tournament MVP.

Smith said that he knew before taking the game-winning shot he could make it.

“That’s a shot I’ve been working on in practice and I’ve gotten confident that whenever I take it, I’ll knock it down,” he said. “I try and find open spots on the court and when I’m open, I take them.”

Smith had given third-seeded Hillsborough the lead at 51-49 with 2:10 to play with a runner in the lane, but Harrison DeMaira’s fifth 3-pointer of the game gave top-seeded Gill St. Bernard’s the lead back with 1:15 to go.

Jalen Parham missed a pair of free throws with 52.7 remaining, but the Raiders got the ball back on a scramble under the hoop following the second miss, setting up Smith for the heroic shot.

“I don’t even know what to say right now,” Hillsborough head coach Ian Progin said. “We did everything we could on defense, but we got stops when we needed to and James Smith was incredible. He hit a big-time shot for us.”

After Smith’s go-ahead basket, the Raiders defense needed to come up with one more defensive stand in the closing seconds. Tyus Battle, who poured in a game-high 22 points for the game, dribbled into the lane and missed a layup with 4.1 seconds left, but the ball went out to the Knights. In a last-gasp chance to tie the game or win it, Gill St. Bernard’s couldn’t get a shot off following the inbounds pass, setting off a wild celebration by the Raiders players and student body.

“We knew where it was going; it was going to Battle. He’s a great player, but we just all dug in and got a stop,” Smith said. “We strapped up, as we like to say, and we kept our hands up on them. I’m really proud of the way we played on defense.”

DeMaira scored 17 points for the Knights, who had a four-point lead with three minutes remaining in regulation, but saw it shrink completely after a pair of free throws from both Jack Panagos and Matt Westphal.

Battle gave Gill St. Bernard’s a lead at 47-45 with 90 seconds left in regulation, but Smith knocked down a clutch jumper to tie the game. DeMaira had a wide-open look for the win in the final seconds of regulation, but the ball rattled off the rim and out, forcing overtime.

Battle scored just five points in the second half and overtime, after pouring in 12 in the opening quarter. He consistently saw double-teams from the Hillsborough defense, but didn’t waver in his approach, according to Knights’ coach Mergin Sina.

“He’s a tough kid and he fought through a lot of things in the game,” Sina said. “He never moaned and groaned about it, which I don’t know if I would have.”

Panagos chipped in nine points and four rebounds for the game for Hillsborough and Matt Hornich added seven points and eight rebounds.

“We played an excellent game,” Hornich said. “The role players and the starters, everybody. It’s just awesome to bring the championship to the town of Hillsborough.”

The Raiders will forever have a banner inside their gym to look up at and admire, after beating the sixth-seed Rutgers Prep and second-seed Montgomery en route to the final.

“We’ve never won one of these, so these guys will be able to walk into that gym for the rest of their lives and see that banner and say they accomplished that,” Progin said.

Collier sparks Metuchen past Bernards

METUCHEN — After scoring just five points as a team in the first quarter, the Metuchen High School boys basketball team turned it on, using a 21-8 run in the second quarter en route to a 53-34 victory over Bernards in the Bulldog Holiday Tournament Final Monday afternoon.

Tournament MVP Evan Collier got Metuchen going in the second quarter, sinking four 3-pointers and scoring 15 of his game-high 22 points. His fourth trifecta of the quarter came as time expired and gave the Bulldogs a 26-20 lead going into the locker room.

“When we have a guy that can knock down shots like that from the perimeter consistently, we’re a good team,” Metuchen head coach Jon Korellis said. “Against the 2-3 zone that Bernards was running against us, we needed to be able to make shots like that. When our shots start to go down, we’re firing on all cylinders.”

Artie Flaherty added 11 points and eight rebounds for Metuchen and Hunter Clarke chipped in 10 points.

For Bernards, Doug Demarrais led the way with 14 points and five rebounds, but the Mountaineers made just six baskets in second half, wasting a strong first quarter where they out-scored the Bulldogs 12-5.

For Korellis, seeing his squad win a tournament on its home floor is a big boost for the rest of the season.

“It’s huge to win and get a few extra home games and it feels great to be in front of our crowd and gain some respect in the blue division,” he said.

Trenton a better stage for the T of C

TRENTON — The Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, more widely known for hosting graduations for local high schools, was on center stage Tuesday evening as the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions Final was held in an arena outside of the Meadowlands for the first time in recent memory.

The 8,600-seat arena in Mercer County was about half-full during the Boys final between second-seeded St. Joseph and top-seeded Roselle Catholic. The Lions won their first ever Tournament of Champions title 65-49. Both schools had large contingents of students in the stands, standing in unison throughout the contest and at times battling each other through chants and taunts. But in the end, the game was won on the court, not in the stands, at least in the eyes of one of the pivotal players in the contest.

“The court was a little different and the feel for the whole arena was a bit different than we were used to, but at the end of the day you need to black those kinds of things out and just go play,” St. Joseph star Karl Towns said. “I don’t think their student section had any effect on us whatsoever. I can honestly say that the East Brunswick fans were rowdier and louder towards us. We just couldn’t beat Roselle Catholic on the floor. It had nothing to do with what was going on in the stands.”

Instead of having the game at the vacant Izod Center in East Rutherford, an arena with 20,000 seats that would have drowned out the crowd noise, the NJSIAA moved its signature contest to Trenton for the first time in the 25-year history of the event.

One of the louder moments of the contest came with 2:12 remaining in the third quarter, when Towns went over 1,000 career points with a made layup. The crowd gave Towns a standing ovation.

Fans and students from both schools had a longer than usual commute to the game, some traveling in excess of one hour to make it to Trenton for the opening tipoff, but the St. Joseph mascot was in the stands early pumping up his classmates.

“Parking was crazy, there were so many cars and not enough spots, so we had to park a little bit further away than we wanted to,” St. Joseph sophomore Tyler Vitale, who dresses up in the Falcons suit for each game, said. “But it’s nice for the guys to play in a smaller arena like this, with everybody packed in close, because if it’s full for a game, it’ll be much louder than it would be up at the Meadowlands or an arena like that.”

One of Vitale’s classmates, senior Christian Goldy, said that driving a little bit further than usual wouldn’t keep the Falcons fans away.

“We’ve had good crowds everywhere we’ve gone this season, so it’s not going to make much of a difference for us,” Goldy said. “I think a smaller building brings out the best in high school basketball. I think it’s cool that they decided to have the game here.”

Fouls don’t slow Towns

St. Joseph star Karl Towns drives against Atlantic City in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals. Photo by: Doug Hood

St. Joseph star Karl Towns drives against Atlantic City in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals. Photo by: Doug Hood

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.