One year after suffering a defeat in its first Tournament of Champions final appearance to Roselle Catholic, the St. Joseph boys basketball team wanted to make sure it didn’t suffer the same fate on Monday night against Newark East Side.
After nearly squandering the lead it held for all but 33 seconds of the game, St. Joseph pulled out a dramatic 49-47 win over East Side to become the first boys team in Middlesex County history to win a T of C title.
“Same thing with Linden (in the semifinals) — we got up big, let them back in it, but as I’ve told people out there it’s not so much we let them back in it, (East Side) deserved to be in it with the way they played,” St. Joseph coach Dave Turco said. “They played great defense, they got us out of our rhythm, they made some big shots. Fortunately we were able to make some big plays down the stretch to get the win.”
East Side’s Jamar Gilbert knocked down a left wing 3-pointer with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter to put his team ahead 47-46, the first time they led all game after trailing by as many as 17 in the first half.
St. Joseph (30-2) erased that deficit, though, when Marques Townes drew a foul with 1:03 left and knocked down both free throws to put the Falcons ahead 48-47.
Townes later hit 1-of-2 free throws with 14.7 seconds left to put St. Joseph up 49-47.
“I was struggling in the beginning,” Townes said. “I hit two free throws at the end and I knew earlier I airballed one, and then I came back and hit another two and I was just fortunate to give my team the two-point lead to give us the T of C.”
East Side (30-2) had one last chance, but Akbar Hoffman’s 3-pointer with a hand in his face from the top of the key hit off the rim.
Wade Baldwin led St. Joseph with a team-high 12 points, but also turned it over 10 times as the Falcons turned the ball over 25 times as a team compared to East Side’s nine.
Breein Tyree and Townes each added 10 points while Raven Owen netted nine and senior center Karl Towns added eight points and 12 rebounds.
St. Joseph got off to a flying start, opening the game on a 7-0 run, and led by as many as 17 points early in the second quarter, 24-7, as all seemed good.
“Anytime you can make a run against a quality team like that is important,” Turco said.
East Side, though, closed the half on an 11-1 run over the final 2:21 of the second quarter as St. Joseph’s lead shrunk to 28-21. The Falcons went without a field goal for over the final five minutes.
St. Joseph maintained its distance from East Side in the third quarter, but things got sloppy in the fourth quarter as turnovers plagued the Falcons and East Side crept back in.
The Red Raiders went on a 7-1 run during the quarter to take its first and only lead on Gilbert’s 3 with 1:36 left.
Towns was on the bench for a portion of that time frame, picking up his fourth foul with 4:50 left and coming out with 4:27 left, and did not return until there was 2:16 left, at which point St. Joseph led 46-44.
Gilbert led East Side with 16 points while Ahmad Harrison added 10.
Seton Hall-bound senior forward Ismael Sanogo scored just five points, sitting almost the entire third quarter with foul trouble.