High school basketball season is a marathon, and the Gill St. Bernard’s boys took a huge stride Friday night.
After six weeks of fits and starts, the Knights put it all together on a big stage to defeat Roselle Catholic 63-59 in the Newark National Invitational at the Prudential Center.
Senior guard Jaren Sina made the difference. With the score tied and the clock slipping under 10 seconds, the Northwestern-bound standout got fouled and made both free throws, then stole a pass and made two more freebies to ice it.
Sina finished with 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting and handed out 10 assists. On a floor loaded with Division I talent, he rose above the fray in crunch time. Roselle Catholic (13-4) seemed dead in the water before scoring four quick points to tie things up at 59-59 with 12 seconds left. Then Sina drove up court and a foul was called as the Lions tried to trap him at the top of the key.
“I knew I was going to make them,” Sina said. “Then I was running back on D and I saw their guy wasn’t paying attention, so I ran back and got the steal. I feel like I’m a senior and I had to show my leadership.”
As good as Sina was, perhaps the biggest development for Gill (10-6) was the fourth-quarter performance of 6-foot-9 senior Austin Colbert. After struggling against Syracuse-bound big man Tyler Roberson (21 points, 17 rebounds) for three quarters, Colbert turned it up a notch, scoring 10 points in the final frame. He finished with 15 points and three blocks.
“I love playing against Tyler — great player, great athlete,” Colbert said. “If you’re going to play against that caliber of a guy, you have to come to play.”
The Illinois-bound Colbert transferred to Gill over the summer and just recently became eligible after sitting out the first month per NJSIAA transfer rules.
“He was great in the fourth quarter,” Gill coach Mergin Sina said. “If he does that for four quarters, he could be one of the most dominant players around. But he has to want to do it. I don’t know if he’s ever been pushed. We’re trying to push him.”
With Colbert and fellow Division I-bound transfer Chris Jenkins (3-of-11, 8 points) eligible, plus freshman phenom Tyus Battle (8 points), the Knights head into the Somerset County Tournament as the favorite even though unbeaten Ridge owns the top seed. They play Ridge Feb. 14 in a much-anticipated regular-season game.
“I think it’s working” Mergin Sina said. “Is this a great win for us? Yes. Is it a statement win? I’ll leave that to you guys.”
Roselle Catholic played without standout point guard Hakim Saintil, who split his lip yesterday and needed stitches. His absence showed as the Lions committed 17 turnovers.
Still, they flexed their muscles underneath with a 42-25 edge on the boards and a 26-12 advantage in second-chance points.
Roberson was a big part of that, but he fouled out with just under a minute left when Gill reserve Ian Demarest took a charge.
These two teams could meet again in the Non-Public B South final, with a berth in the state title game on the line.