St. Joseph wins its third straight state championship

St. Joseph wins its third straight state championship


St. Joseph wins its third straight state championship



After two thirds of “The Big Three” were forced to the bench in early foul trouble, St. Joseph High School boys basketball coach Dave Turco called a timeout and directed his team’s offense to go through the remaining third.

Without McDonald’s All-American center Karl Towns and Vanderbilt University signee Wade Baldwin on the court for the entire second quarter, the Falcons relied on Marques Townes to keep them in Saturday’s Non-Public A final at Pine Belt Arena.

Townes scored 13 of his team-high 22 points in the opening half, helping St. Joseph keep pace until the other two thirds of “The Big Three” returned for an early third-quarter run that propelled the Falcons to their third consecutive state title with an 85-72 comeback victory over St. Peter’s Prep in a rematch of last year’s championship game.

“When Karl and Wade got those two fouls, coach called a timeout and pulled us together,” Townes said. “He was just saying that we’ve got to stay focused and keep our minds right. He told us he wants to run the offense through me because they know I can make things happen and score. While Karl and Wade were out, I tried to get my team involved. They really did a great job of doing that, and they did a great job of providing me the ball when I was open. I was fortunate to knock down some shots and the ball was just going my way.”

St. Joseph, ranked no. 14 in the country by USA Today, advanced to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions for the second consecutive year.

The Falcons (28-2), who have not lost to an in-state foe, will likely garner the top seed for the T of C on Sunday night. St. Joseph will likely receive a bye into the semifinals, which will be contested at Monmouth University on Thursday night.

St. Joseph, which lost last year’s T of C title to Roselle Catholic, is favored in the eyes of many to win the crown.

“I think it’s unfair that a lot of people put on this group Tournament of Champions (title) or bust, and call it a failure,” Turco said. “They are 16- and 17-year old kids. For me, this was the championship – punch the ticket and get to the Tournament of Champions.

“People had us down in the rankings (earlier) this year because we didn’t come out and play well at the beginning of the season. Well, Wade had a bad back. Forty percent of our team was playing football. It took us some time to get their legs. They are playing the way they are supposed to play right now. I’m happy. For us, this was our goal. It would be nice to win the Tournament of Champions. We’ve got to remember that these are kids, and they’ve had an outstanding season. To say that if something doesn’t go right in the next two games they are not champions is totally wrong.”

The 7-foot University of Kentucky-bound Towns, who matched Townes with a team-high 22 points and also blocked a game-high five shots despite playing just 18 minutes, said St. Joseph needs to play a complete game to be the best team in the state.

“We need to bring it together and have a great first and second half if we want to win this T of C,” Towns said. “We are seniors now. This is our last goal. We’ve got to leave every (drop of) blood, sweat and tear on that court. You want to leave on top.”

The Marauders, who lost twice to St. Joseph last season, played a near flawless first half. They committed just three turnovers, outrebounded the Falcons 21-18 and their bench outscored St. Joseph’s reserves 11-0 while building a 35-32 lead at the intermission.

“They came in with a chip on their shoulder, because last year we ended up beating them in the same position, same place,” Townes said. “They are even better than last year. They came out and played hard.”

After Raven Owen opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to help St. Joseph forge a 35-35 tie, Towns followed with a conventional three-point play and a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Falcons a 44-35 lead they would not relinquish.

St. Peter’s Prep (26-5) turned the ball over on four of its first five possessions of the third quarter with Baldwin twice stepping in the passing lanes for steals. He scored seven of his 17 points in the third quarter to help the Falcons build a 57-46 lead.

“I’ve been saying all season that it’s no longer just ‘The Big Three’ that defines St. Joe’s” said Baldwin, who credited fellow starters Breein Tyree (14 points) and Owen (10 points on a team-best 3 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc), along with reserves Michael Cintron and Marcus Ashamole for the Falcons’ success.

“I’m a competitor, and not being out there definitely hurts me. But those guys definitely stepped up. It’s the whole team. It’s the people on the bench that practice with us. It’s everybody. It was a St. Joe’s win.”

St. Joseph has dominated the third quarter all season, so the Falcons felt confident heading into the locker room at halftime down just three points.

“That third quarter has been our best quarter all season and we showed it again today,” Baldwin said. “You don’t want to get us mad. Once we are mad, we are like a machine.”

Led by point guard Austin White’s game-high 23 points and the sharp-shooting of swingman Veer Singh, who shot 4 of 10 from beyond the arc to finish with 20 points, St. Peter’s Prep closed the deficit to 61-56 with 4:55 remaining.

“The Big Three,” who have combined to score more than 5,000 career points, responded to score 11 points during a pivotal 13-4 run that put the contest out of reach, 74-60, with 2:12 remaining.

Unlike the first half, during which they were able to dictate tempo, the Marauders could not force St. Joseph to play halfcourt after intermission. Once the Falcons’ transition game kicked into high gear, fueled by steals and outlet passes off defensive boards, St. Joseph pulled away.

“Our mindset was just to turn it up on them,” Baldwin said. “Once we get it going, I don’t see anybody stopping us.”


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