For 13 minutes Saturday night, St. Augustine Prep team fooled everyone into believing it could hang with reigning sate champion St. Joseph. But the Falcons made sure they sent everybody home with their facts in order.
After trailing briefly, 16-14, midway through the second quarter, the second-seeded Falcons went on a 21-2 run bridging the second and third periods on its way to an 80-39 dismantling of the third-seeded Hermits in the NJSIAA South Non-Public A semifinals.
St. Joseph (24-4) will face fourth-seeded Paul IV in the sectional final, 6 p.m. Tuesday at Jackson Liberty High School.
The Falcons arguably played their best basketball of the season in the third quarter, outscoring St. Augustine 30-8 for a 56-26 lead heading to the fourth.
“We put it all together tonight,” St. Joseph coach Dave Turco said. “It was our best game of year in a game of this magnitude. (St. Augustine) is a very good team, but we did a good job prepping and the kids and they followed the game plan.”
St. Joe’s outscored the Hemits 64-21 over the final 19 minutes of the game, completely dominated in all facets. Turco was able to spell his starters for much of the fourth, and 10 Falcons logged minutes.
“What sparked the run was the defensive end,” the Falcons’ Jimbo Long said. “We started getting steals, getting out in transition and doing what we do best.”
Hermits leading scorer, senior guard Mike Greenman was held well below his season’s average with seven points.
“Jimbo and Wade (Baldwin) did a great job on him,” Turco said. “Jimbo kept the ball out of his hands, and he did that same thing last year during our state title run. I hope he can do it again.”
The ‘Big 3’ or ‘The Law Firm’, as they’ve become known, combined for a tremendous surge. Kentucky-bound Karl Towns finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. Baldwin, the junior guard and Immaculata transfer, posted an efficient 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting and junior forward Marques Townes added 15.
Although Long didn’t score, he ran the offense to efficiency as usual.
“It makes my job much easier and makes me look good,” said Long of having Towns, Baldwin and Townes at his disposal. “I know if I get them the ball, they’re going to put it in the basket.”
The Hermits came out in a 2-3 zone defense to begin the second quarter in an attempt to take St. Joe’s’s out of its track-meet style offense, and it was effective for a stretch.
In their offensive end, they were methodically slow. Senior guard Brad Greenman knocked down 3s on back-to-back possessions midway through the quarter giving Prep its first and only lead, 16-14, at the five-minute mark.
The Hermits shot 3 of 6 from downtown in the first half to keep it a close score.
“I thought we were in it,” St. Augustine Prep coach Paul Rodio said. “We were trying to slow the game down. It was working. We were fine.”
St. Joe’s responded immediately, especially of defense. They created four turnovers and finished the half on a 10-2 spurt, buoyed by Towns’ inside presence for a 24-18 lead at the break.
Baldwin came out firing from the opening tip, knocking down his first four attempts from the floor and scored eight first-quarter points.
St. Joe’s senior co-captain James Ziemba offered a bold statement on the victory following the last home game he and fellow co-captain Long would play.
“We’ve had games recently that we’ve thought were our best performances, but I don’t think there’s any question this is the best,” he said. “Everybody came together, especially in the defensive end.
“Finally this team is showing what we’re capable of doing to anybody in the state. We brought it all together tonight, and it must’ve been pretty to watch.”
* St. Joseph and St. Augustine Prep are the last two Non-Public A champions
* The 39 points was a season low for St. Augustine Prep
* It was St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio’s 1,000th coached game
* Karl Towns now has 937 career points
* Former Rutgers head coach and current Northwestern assistant Fred Hill Jr. was on hand to scout Baldwin for a second time this season