David step aside, and take your slingshot with you. Goliath faces Goliath in the paint tonight when St. Joseph of Metuchen and Roselle Catholic meet in the NJSIAA Boys Basketball Tournament of Champions final.
The matchup hoops junkies from across New Jersey have been itching to see all winter will unfold at Trenton’s Sun National Bank Center when St. Joseph 7-footer Karl Towns crosses paths with 6-9 Tyler Roberson of Roselle Catholic.
They won’t go head-to-head in the classic sense – the versatile Towns has been playing the post while Roberson generally faces the basket as a power forward – but their paths figure to cross early and often to the delight of hardwood aficionados.
Towns, a sophomore, has committed to play college ball at Kentucky. Senior Roberson is Syracuse-bound.
“I don’t think they’ll be on each other for 30 minutes, but they’ll definitely spend some time on each other,” said N.J. Hoops publisher Jay Gomes, the Garden State’s foremost talent evaluator. “It’s a great matchup of arguably the two best players in the state.”
Gomes said the last time New Jersey’s top two players squared off in the state tournament’s ultimate game was 2000, when Dajuan Wagner led Camden past Seton Hall Prep and Marcus Toney-El.
“That’s a long time ago,” Gomes said. “When two of the most exciting, best prospects are in the final game, that’s what you love to see.”
East Brunswick coach Bo Henning, whose squad faced both St. Joseph and Roselle Catholic this season, said the coaches will do their best to keep Towns and Roberson from defending each other in isolation.
“I think Roselle Catholic has a bad matchup with Karl. I don’t think they have anybody that can really handle him,” Henning said. “Karl is a little more physical than Roberson. Roberson was physical against St. Anthony (in the Non-Public Group B final), but those guys were nowhere near the size of Karl.”
But, Henning added, “Along those lines I don’t know how you guard Roberson.”
The simple answer is to send Towns after him, but that may not be the smartest one.
“Karl has to stay out of foul trouble, and he gets in foul trouble quite a bit,” Gomes said. “They did a good job (against Atlantic City in Friday’s semifinal) when he went out, but in a game of this magnitude against this level of competition, they need him on the floor.”
It’s been a fascinating postseason for Towns. Coming up the ranks he made a name for himself shooting from distance and passing like a playmaking guard, but in elimination games he’s knuckled down and done the heavy lifting inside to help St. Joseph advance.
“When you have his type of accolades there’s a reason for it,” Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff said of Towns. “When you watch him in person, and on film, you get a sense for just how talented he is.”
That said, Boff would not trade Roberson for anyone.
“If anyone else wins state player of the year, I think it’s insanity,” he said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He could score 27 a night, but I ask him to do other things.”
The Goliath showdown won’t be the only entertaining action in the final. Both teams sport significant second and third options. St. Joseph of Metuchen has elite guards in Wade Baldwin and Marques Townes. Roselle Catholic has perhaps the state’s most sought-after uncommitted recruit, 6-foot-6 guard Malachi Richardson, and a consummate senior leader in point guard Hakim Saintil.
One thing is sure: Unlike many of the previous state finals, when St. Anthony or St. Patrick steamrolled in as a monster favorite, this year’s trophy is there for the taking.
“This could be one of the best TOC finals in a long time,” Gomes said. “Two very strong teams, and you could make a good argument for either side.”