UNION – Nick Richards made an immediate statement by dunking home the game’s first two points just 16 seconds in.
Then after being held scoreless in the second quarter and with just six points at intermission and his team ahead by only two, he took matters into his own hands when the second half commenced.
Figuratively, also, for that matter.
The 6-10 Kentucky-bound senior, who has heard some criticism regarding his McDonald’s All-America status, played like he had something to prove in the game’s final 16 minutes.
Richards used his height to his advantage in getting to the basket often, whether it was to put in an alley oop, get fouled or to strongly produce another statement dunk.
At one point the Patrick School center missed consecutive free throws in the third quarter, so it appeared not to be such a bad idea to foul him. Then he came back to make his next four – so much for that strategy.
Linden ultimately didn’t have an answer for the big guy and could not counter his inside offense with a sharpshooter of its own.
While Linden held Patrick School to under 60 points and the Celtics were 30 seconds shy of not producing a single field goal in the second quarter, the Celtics still found a way to beat the Tigers for a fifth straight time in the county championship game.
Richards led all players with 24 points – 18 of them in the second half – and 15 rebounds while lifting second-seeded Patrick School to a convincing 58-44 triumph over top-seeded Linden in Saturday night’s 81st annual boys’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game, played at Kean University’s Harwood Arena.
Patrick School, in addition to repeating as county champions, won for the fifth straight time to improve to 22-4, while Linden had a four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 20-4. The only in-state loss Patrick School has is its 71-67 defeat at Linden back on Jan. 17.
Patrick School and Linden split regular season games to each gain a share of the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division championship.
We will soon see if a fourth meeting in next month’s Tournament of Champions becomes a reality.
Of the three clashes so far including the top-ranked teams in the state, this was by easily the best performance Richards produced.
“I just wanted to win, it didn’t matter if I scored only two points,” Richards said. “I just wanted to get the W.”
The way Linden held the ball and the unusual flow of play prevented Patrick School from getting many shots at all during the second quarter after the Celtics won the first eight minutes 15-10, with Richards providing two dunks and 3-point baskets made by Jordan Walker (2) and Marcus McClary.
Ahead only 21-19 at the half, Richards realized he had to increase his inside presence if the Celtics were going to go on and win a second straight county championship.
“I had to get good shots, catch the ball in traffic and do anything I could for us to get a win,” Richards spoke of his team’s plan once the third quarter began. “For us seniors this was our last UCT game. It’s the best feeling to win it again. We couldn’t have done it without our coaches.”
After the first half saw Patrick School have four leads and the game tied twice at 15-15 and 19-19, Linden senior guard Joey Krempa managed to deadlock the contest one final time for his team when from the right side he made the second of his two 3-pointers to make it a 25-25 game with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Following a Linden timeout, Richards and the Celtics were there to answer, with Walker feeding the ball to Richards near the rim and Richards sending it home.
Patrick School took its fifth lead on the play at 27-25 and never trailed again.
“In my opinion Jordan is the best guard in the state,” Richards said. “He showed it tonight.”
Jordan, the only other Patrick School player to score in double digits, finished with 15 points. He scored 31 points in his team’s 75-62 Watchung Division win over Linden Jan. 3 at Kean.
FIRST QUARTER: Nick Richards begins the game with a thunderous dunk and then Joey Krempa hits a 3 from the left side to give Linden its only lead at 3-2. Patrick School hits three 3s to get out to a 15-8 advantage before Tavon Jones scores inside for Linden to make it 15-10 Celtics after the first eight minutes.
SECOND QUARTER: Khalief Crawford nails a 3 from the top of the key to force the game’s first tie at 15-15 with 3:57 left before the half, concluding a 7-0 Linden run. The only points scored in the quarter before that were two free throws by Krempa. Patrick School gets four straight free throws from Jordan Walker to take a 19-15 lead before Mikey Watkins and Jones make two each for Linden to tie the game for the second time at 19-19. The only field goal made in the period by Patrick School came with 30 seconds left when Valdir Manuel – back in the game after committing two fouls – produced a one-handed dunk following a Celtic miss. Patrick School was outscored 9-6 in the period, but still led 21-19 at intermission.
THIRD QUARTER: Following the game’s third and final tie, Patrick School went on a 10-2 run to build its biggest lead at the time at eight, up 35-27. Walker and McClary scored on back-to-back layups and then Al-Amir Dawes scored his first points on an offensive rebound and put back. An inside basket by Khalief Crawford pulled Linden to within 35-31. Richards closed out the third quarter scoring with his third and fourth successful free throws. Richards finished six-of-10 from the free throw line.
FOURTH QUARTER: Another alley oop to Richards to start the fourth quarter put the Celtics ahead 39-31. Before that, Linden reserve Marcellus Livingston attempted his first shot, with his 3-pointer off the mark. Livingston would finish 0-for-3 shooting, with just two 3-point attempts. Linden remained in range down 43-38 before Patrick School made some free throws and then went on a 7-4 run to lead 50-42. Linden’s last two points were scored on the free throw line by Mikey Watkins to make it a 50-44 game with over a minute to go. From there Patrick School closed with an 8-0 run, all of the points coming on free throws.
Linden only had four players fill the hoop, with Jones leading the way with 13, Crawford with 12 and Watkins with 11. Krempa finished with eight.
NOTES: Patrick School/St. Pat’s is now 18-5 in its 23 appearances in the UCT final since 1993. In that span, the Celtics only missed reaching the title game in 2012 and 2015.
Linden is 3-8 in the UCT final under head coach Phil Colicchio and 2-8 in that span vs. Patrick School/St. Pat’s.
Linden is also 3-8 against Patrick School/St. Pat’s total in the UCT final.
81st ANNUAL BOYS’ BASKETBALL UCT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
2-PATRICK SCHOOL (22-4) 15 06 16 21 – 58
1-LINDEN (20-4) 10 09 12 13 – 44
2-PATRICK SCHOOL CELTICS (58):
21-Bul Ajang, senior, 0-0-0-0
4-Jamir Harris, senior, 0-0-4-4
1-Valdir Manuel, junior, 1-0-0-2
0-Marcus McClary, senior, 1-1-2-7
12-Nicholas Richards, senior, 9-0-6-24
2-Jordan Walker, 1-2-7-15
25-CJ Wilcher, senior, 0-0-0-0
32-Buay Koka, senior, 0-0-0-0
13-Justin Williams, junior, 0-0-0-0
15-Brandt Roundtree, senior, 0-0-0-0
33-Al-Amir Dawes, sophomore, 1-0-4-6
Starters: Ajang, Harris,
McClary, Richards, Walker.
1-LINDEN TIGERS (44):
1-Khalief Crawford, senior, 3-1-3-12
2-Joey Krempa, senior, 0-2-2-8
3-Marcellus Livingston, senior, 0-0-0-0
5-Mikey Watkins, junior, 2-1-4-11
12-Abraham Kromah, senior, 0-0-0-0
13-Tavon Jones, junior, 5-0-3-13
15-Kyree Rogers, senior, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Crawford, Krempa,
Watkins, Jones, Rogers.
PATRICK SCHOOL/ST. PAT’S HAS DEFEATED
LINDEN 8 OF 11 TIMES IN THE UCT FINAL:
2017: Patrick School 58, Linden 44 – Chris Chevannes – at Kean
2014: Patrick School 62, Linden 54 – Chris Chevannes – at Kean
2013: Patrick School 44, Linden 42 – Chris Chevannes – at Kean
2011: St. Patrick 70, Linden 58 – Kevin Boyle – at Kean
2008: St. Patrick 67, Linden 56 – Kevin Boyle
2007: Linden 63, St. Patrick 51 – Phil Colicchio
2005: St. Patrick 77, Linden 68 – Kevin Boyle
2003: St. Patrick 68, Linden 62 – Kevin Boyle
2001: Linden 76, St. Patrick 59 – Phil Colicchio
2000: St. Patrick 69, Linden 55 – Kevin Boyle
1966: Linden 61, St. Patrick 56 – Joe Gaines
UNION REPEATS AS JV UCT CHAMPIONS,
BEATING 22-0 TOP SEED PATRICK SCHOOL 71-58
Appearing in the championship game for the third straight year, the Union Farmers repeated as junior varsity boys’ basketball Union County Tournament champions by defeating 22-0 top seed Patrick School 71-58 in Saturday’s final at Kean.
Union defeated Roselle Catholic in last year’s final after falling to the Lions in the 2015 championship game.
Union, the third seed, finished 18-3 and Patrick School 22-1.
Union starting junior center Tyrone Bowens ended the scoring with an emphatic dunk.
Union was on fire in the first quarter, shooting over 50 percent from the field en route to a 13-1 lead before Patrick School produced its first field goal. Union junior Marvelous Akingbala was marvelous by hitting consecutive 3-point baskets from the right side to get the Union bench and fans riled up early on.
Union led 19-7 at the end of the first quarter before Patrick School began a comeback that saw it pull to within 28-20 at intermission.
Patrick School took the first of its two leads at 35-34 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The second Celtic lead was 41-39 after a 3-point field goal. Union came right back with a 3-pointer of its own to take the lead again and for good at 42-41.
Union led 44-41 going into the fourth quarter.
After a hectic pace and back-and-forth scoring in the third, Union jumped out to a 50-43 lead in the fourth with 5:57 remaining.
Union then built its lead back up to double digits and was ahead by as many as 14 with 2:42 to go, leading 62-48.
UNION FARMERS CHAMPIONSHIP ROSTER:
1-Marvelous Akingbala, junior
2-Chimdi Eboh, junior
3-Bobby Irby, sophomore
4-De Antae Mac Farlane, junior
5-Val Julien, sophomore
10-Jahmir Duncan, junior
11-Olari Oladipo, sophomore
12-Branden Paolo, sophomore
13-Ezra Glover, sophomore
14-Malcolm Dean, freshman
15-Andrew Sanborn, freshman
20-Tyrone Bowens, junior
24-Justin Henry, sophomore
30-Aaron Hobbs, junior
32-Khylori Adams, sophomore
HEAD COACH: Ron Zieser