They made history with a five-peat last season and this year’s version of the St. Joseph High School boys basketball team will look to tack on to that history and go for a six-peat, as they’ll seeks its sixth straight Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title on Thursday night.
The only thing that will be standing in the way for the top-seeded Falcons, who have won 42 straight games against GMC competition, is a very sound No. 2 seed in Colonia, which hasn’t lost to a GMC opponent all season.
The two will meet for the GMCT title at the Rutgers Athletic Center at 8 p.m. where Colonia, which certainly has a fighter’s chance, will look to pull the upset behind an experienced starting five of guards J.J. Corbett, Chase Barneys, Jodrell Thompson, forward Brandon Haines, and center Pat Naguib — they’re all seniors other than Barneys, a junior three-year starter.
“They do a great job, they’re very well coached, they take good shots, and they play defense, so that’s a tough team to beat,” said St. Joseph coach Dave Turco, who will be going for his seventh title as a head coach. “We’re going to sort of need to improve our offensive possessions in order to be able to compete with them.”
This is the year for Colonia to get it done with a senior-laden team that’s been building for this moment over the past 2-3 years.
“A big test Thursday,” Barneys said. “We need to get this win to prove to everybody that we’re the best. This is our big year and we’re trying to get that state ring.”
While the teams didn’t play this season after Colonia moved from the Red Division to the White Division, they’re certainly familiar with each other having played twice a year prior to this season as division opponents and met three times last year, including once in the GMCT semifinals.
It would appear St. Joseph would have that experience factor, but that isn’t necessarily so — junior guard Breein Tyree is the only returning starter from last year’s team as much of this squad hasn’t played in a GMCT final.
“A lot of the guys last year like Karl (Towns), Wade (Baldwin), Marques (Townes), and Raven (Owen) told me I couldn’t do it, but I’m glad that my team, not just me, got back,” Tyree said, mentioning St. Joseph’s four other starters from last year, all of whom are currently playing Division I college basketball. “We got back as a team and I’m just happy that we did it.”
It does speak volumes for the continued success the St. Joseph program has had and maintainedunder Turco — the Falcons have integrated new pieces with Tyree in Marcus Ashamole, who’s gone from reserve off the bench to key starter at forward, Branislav Vujadinovic, a Serbian junior transfer who stretches the court, along with fellow starters Mike Granda and Bryan Carley
A win Thursday also would not only mark a sixth consecutive GMCT title — it would also be career win No. 400 for Turco.
Turco has a career record of 399-111 over 19 seasons at Carteret, South Brunswick, and St. Joseph, where he’s currently in his 10th season.
“People talk about it, but I’ve told the other guys that have brought it up – I’ve been in it a long time, I’ve been doing this a long time,” Turco said. “If it does happen that night, I’d just like it to be about them and we can talk about that another day because without any of these kids that number doesn’t happen.”
Staff writer Mike Becker: email@example.com
WHAT: Greater Middlesex Conference Boys Basketball Tournament final
WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. Thursday/Rutgers Athletic Center
WHO: No. 1 seed St. Joseph (20-3) vs. No. 2 Colonia (19-4)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: St. Joseph defeated No. 17 Piscataway Tech 70-52, No. 9 Woodbridge 56-35, and No. 5 Perth Amboy 59-45; Colonia defeated No. 18 Bishopr Ahr 53-34, No. 7 Carteret 51-46, and No. 6 East Brunswick 46-36.
ST. JOSEPH REPORT: While the Falcons are going for their sixth straight title this is a fairly young team with only two seniors, Breein Tyree and Brandon Goldy, and two players with significant postseason playing experience, Tyree and Marcus Ashamole. Tyree will be the focal point against a very strong Colonia defense. The Falcons will also need at least one secondary scoring option in either Ashamole or Branislav Vujadinovic to provide a lift.
COLONIA REPORT: Making their first finals appearance since 2006, Colonia has the weapons that it will take to pull the upset. The Patriots have a strong starting five that’s experienced, play well together, and there isn’t a glaring weakness in this unit. The Patriots will need to contain Breein Tyree, take care of the basketball, and limit St. Joseph from getting in transition for the game-changing highlight reel dunk that could alter momentum. Colonia wants to keep the game in the 40s-low 50s.
PREDICTION: St. Joseph 57-50.