WEST LONG BRANCH
Karl Towns logged more points than minutes Friday night and St. Joseph still won by double figures.
When Towns played he was brilliant. His teammates picked him up, too, as St. Joseph scored a 63-49 triumph over third-seeded Atlantic City in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals at Monmouth University.
Towns, the 7-foot-1 sophomore who has already committed to the University of Kentucky, was limited to just 22 minutes because of foul trouble, but made the most of those minutes. He tallied 24 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots.
The second-seeded Falcons (27-4) advance to their first T of C final on Tuesday night against the Roselle Catholic-Newark Tech winner.
“Last year, this was a goal of ours to get here (T of C),” St. Joseph coach Dave Turco said, “and I don’t think we played well. This year our goal was to win a (T of C) championship, and I couldn’t be more proud of their effort tonight.”
Junior guard Wade Baldwin collected 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and junior wing Marques Townes added 15 points and four rebounds.
St. Joseph, which has thrived on very good team defense of late, held its fifth opponent in six state tournament games to less than 50 points. It limited the Vikings (30-2) to just 18 points in the second half on 6-for-29 shooting.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the defensive effort in the second half. That was the difference,” Turco said.
For the most part with Towns on the bench, St. Joseph held Atlantic City scoreless from the 4:39 mark of the fourth quarter until there was 1:59 left. During the stretch, it extended a five-point lead to 14 to seal the deal.
When Towns returned, he received a pass from senior guard Jimbo Long, spun and converted from the left block for a 58-44 game with 2:10 left to play.
Baldwin scored seven points in the fourth quarter and found himself running a lot of the Falcons’ offensive sets as Atlantic City decided to deny Long his usual ball handling duties.
“We were just getting good plays, and coach Turco was drawing up good sets,” Baldwin said. “Guys were in the right position at the right time, and Atlantic City had a couple of turnovers that we made them pay.
“Without (Towns), it hurts us obviously, but we stepped up big. And when he came back it was just another spark to our team.”
“Wade is one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached,” said Turco. “He understands the game very well and he’s very heady. He got us in the right sets.
“It’s a tribute to Jimbo, too. He was able to slide into whatever spot and run the sets. Wade’s ballhandling tonight was the difference for us dealing with their pressure.”
St. Joseph’s used a 2-3 zone defense for the first time this season while Turco subbed for Towns defensively after he picked up his second foul early in the second quarter.
Raven Owen logged 10 minutes off the bench for Towns, and senior center James Ziemba picked up the slack on the glass as he pulled down nine boards.
Atlantic City was led by Dennis White’s 15 points and Dayshawn Reynolds added 14.
St. Joseph 63, Atlantic City 49
St. Joseph 24-1-12-69: Ziemba 2-0-0-4; Long 1-0-2-4; Baldwin 6-0-3-15; Townes 6-1-2-15; Towns 10-0-4-24; Owen 0-0-1-1.
Atlantic City: 17-1-12-49: Graves 2-0-2-6; White 7-0-1-15; D. Reynolds 5-1-1-14; Montague 1-0-5-7; Chandler 2-0-3-7; Thomas 0-0-0-0.