Two basketball stars enjoy a final embrace as scholastic careers near an end

Two basketball stars enjoy a final embrace as scholastic careers near an end


Two basketball stars enjoy a final embrace as scholastic careers near an end



The best sequence of Thursday’s Greater Middlesex Conference Boys Basketball Tournament final was not a slick fast break or a defensive stand, though there were plenty of those.

It was an embrace.

Moments after the final buzzer sounded on St. Joseph’s 59-45 victory over archrival East Brunswick, opposing guards Marques Townes and Amir Bell locked arms and exchanged heartfelt words.

The scene lasted a precious minute as the 3,000-plus fans began departing and the trophy table was wheeled out to center court at Rutgers ‘ Louis Brown Athletic Center. This was sportsmanship at its finest.

Townes had just scored 22 points and earned MVP honors, no easy feat on a St. Joseph team overflowing with talent. The Princeton-bound Bell scored 21 and did everything he could to keep East Brunswick in the game.

“I was congratulating him on a great four years,” Townes said. “I told him he’s going to do excellent at Princeton and I said I wanted nothing but success for him.”

This was two seniors, literally holding onto the moment.

“We played with each other for four years. We love the competition, going against each other,” Bell said. “I have the utmost respect for him and he has the utmost respect for me. He wished me luck in states and said it was a pleasure going against me for these last couple of years. I said the same thing back. I told him keep doing what he’s doing.”

If this was the last chapter of a wonderful rivalry, well, what a way to close the book. It was the final bit of evidence that St. Joseph and East Brunswick brought out the best in each other.

“Our careers in high school needed to have a legacy, and there’s no legacy without a rival,” St. Joseph big man Karl Towns said. “Superman had Lex Luthor. St. Anthony had St. Pat’s. We needed someone like East Brunswick to challenge us. East Brunswick was the perfect fit against us.”

Maybe the juice will continue. After all, they are divisional rivals and the games will go on. But so many of the faces change this offseason after two years of memorable clashes. Everyone who showed up at the RAC Thursday was hoping for one last classic, and while the game itself was rather ordinary, the lesson in sportsmanship was not.

“I think this means a lot to us and to them,” East Brunswick senior guard Garry Baumer said. “It’s been a pleasure playing a team like that, with that amount of talent. The crowds, everyone comes out for these games. It’s been good for this area.”

It will be fun next winter to watch Towns and Kentucky and Wade Baldwin at Vanderbilt and Bell at Princeton. There has to be a Division I scholarship out there for Townes, whose defense and hustle helped break the game open when his higher-profile teammates got hit with foul trouble. His final gesture was just as impressive.

“I wanted to tell Amir he’s a great player, and I didn’t want him to feel bad about losing because they’re an excellent team,” Townes said. “I told him, ‘Keep your head up, go into states and make a run.’ “

The rivalry has run its course, at least in this form, and it was fun to the last embrace.

“It’s been special,” Bell said. “We’ve had some great crowds. The town comes together, the school gets behind us. Playing against those guys was great competition. There’s nothing better.”


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