Posterity is the real winner in a classic GMCT final

Posterity is the real winner in a classic GMCT final


Posterity is the real winner in a classic GMCT final



Years from now, when Jimbo Long and James Ziemba and Rob Ukawuba are grown men, maybe even old men, they’ll tell their kids and grandkids about Middlesex County’s basketball game of the century.

The 4,700 fans rocking the Louis Brown Athletic Center for two-plus hours, they’ll tell the story too.

The scoreboard showed St. Joseph-Metuchen as a 66-63 victor over East Brunswick at the end of two overtimes, but the biggest winner was posterity.

“It was unreal,” St. Joseph-Metuchen senior forward James Ziemba said. “When you think about the history of all the GMC games played, it has to be one of the wildest that ever happened.”

There were so many moments that make up a classic: Kentucky-bound star Karl Towns swatting shots with such authority, they might have chipped paint off the RAC floor, East Brunswick center Jake Krantz throwing down a flying one-handed dunk on the run to spark a rally, second and third options like Dan Leung and Brian Fitzpatrick making clutch play after clutch play.

Then there was the crowd, louder than just about any Rutgers men’s basketball game this season.

“I’m speechless,” St. Joseph point guard Jimbo Long said. “Coach was calling stuff out to us during the game and we couldn’t hear it.”

Long is the kind of guy you need to get over the top in these tugs-of-war. The smallest player in St. Joseph’s starting lineup spent the first part of the game sticking like flypaper to East Brunswick sharpshooter Gary Baumer, holding him scoreless. Then, when the incredibly scrappy Leung heated up, he switched over to him.

“I was working hard, real hard,” Long said.

For Long and Ziemba, the old hands who have been there for every leg of St. Joseph’s four-peat as Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament champions, this was especially sweet.

“I remember sitting on the bench (as a freshman) when we beat Monroe, thinking how I would love to do this once,” said Ziemba, also a baseball standout who will pitch at Duke next year. “To be there for all this, and to beat an awesome team like East Brunswick—that’s the best team we’ve played in the county in four years. To be able to play through it, play through the awesome East Brunswick fans and find a way to win, it’s the greatest.”

The tournament MVP went to Karl Towns, and deservedly so. He’s a rare talent and a pleasure to watch. And Marques Townes made big play after big play late to put the Falcons over the top. But Long and Ziemba did an invisible thing that enabled this great win. As seniors, they checked their ego at the door, sacrificed touches and shots and numbers for their younger but more explosive teammates, and walked away four-time champions.

“It’s sweet, because this is the one where you’re not supposed to win,” Ziemba said. “We’re wearing green because they beat us two hard games. This is the hardest one we had to work for. For the younger guys, we’re happy we could help them out.”

The scene outside the East Brunswick locker room was different, but in their disappointment, the Bears also understood they had been part of something special.

“They’re heartbroken in that locker room,” said longtime coach Bo Henning, his voice cracking.

Ukawuba, who is headed to NJIT in the fall and who willed East Brunswick to keep pace when it seemed St. Joseph would pull away on multiple occasions, knew his team had left it all out there.

“We played great, and when things weren’t going well, we didn’t quit,” he said. “We stayed positive the whole game. I’m happy with how everyone played but we still didn’t get the win.”

That pain will fade. So will St. Joseph’s jubilation. But something will remain from this game.

“This rivalry has been great all four years I’ve been here,” Ukawuba said. “This year was the craziest. I’m happy about the rivalry and I hope it goes on.”

It will do that for sure, in the memories of everyone who was lucky enough to witness it.


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