PISCATAWAY – Linden couldn’t make their outside shots – the Tigers missed 37 of their first 46 field goal attempts – continued to miss layup after layup and trailed almost the entire first half.
Yet Linden was behind underdog Trenton by just one point at intermission.
“They controlled the tempo in the first half, we were playing way too fast, so in the second half we backed up defensively to allow Quadri (Moore) to be back there to block them,” Linden head coach Phil Colicchio said.
Not only did Moore block a game-high five shots and grab a game-high 21 rebounds, the Cincinnati-bound 6-8 senior center scored the first six points of the second half to give the Tigers the lead for good.
Moore, mostly inside, poured in a game-high 22 points to lead North 2 champion Linden past Central Jersey champ Trenton 66-53 in Sunday’s boys’ basketball Group 4 state championship game at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Moore, a four-year starter, got to experience a state championship for the first time as Linden captured its fourth, all under Colicchio’s 17-season tenure. Linden’s other three state championships came in 2000 over Bridgewater-Raritan, 2006 over Atlantic City and 2007 over South Brunswick.
Colicchio has guided the Tigers to the Group 4 final five times in the past 15 seasons. That’s once every five seasons, which is no easy task after having to navigate through an always-challenging N2, G4 section and then the North 2 champion vs. North 1 champ Group 4 semifinal.
“I have 17 kids in an inner city program and not one problem,” Colicchio said. “Our kids are absolutely amazing. I wanted this one as badly as I wanted the first one in 2000.”
Linden, now 26-4 and winners of six straight since losing the Union County Tournament championship game to the Patrick School of Elizabeth for the second straight season, did not look all that spectacular in the first half. Trenton, which last won a state championship in 1961 when it captured the Group 4 title that season, scored the game’s first five points and on basket by Daniel Peyton took its biggest lead of six at 19-13 early in the second quarter.
Linden made only three of 21 field goal attempts in the first quarter, with Trenton leading 15-10 heading into the second quarter.
The Tornadoes were led offensively by Nazier McKoy, who poured in 12 points, and by Brandon George, who added 11. Naquan Ingram paced Trenton in rebounding with seven, while George and fellow senior Shaquan Worthy each grabbed six.
A three-point basket from the top of the key with two seconds left by Linden junior guard Otis Livingston, who produced a solid 20-point effort, pulled the Tigers to within 28-27 at the half.
“That shot got me going a bit,” Livingston said.
“We came out in the first quarter and we were able to play our pace, our own style,” Trenton head coach Greg Grant said. “I thought we completely outplayed them in the first half. We should have been up by more than five after the first quarter.”
“I think we missed 11 layups in the first half,” Colicchio said. “Give Trenton credit for what they did in the first half.”
As far as halftime adjustments, Colicchio was not as concerned as he was in Linden’s previous game against Paterson Eastside.
“Against Eastside were up by four at the half and I was a little concerned,” Colicchio said. “I wasn’t today because we go nine deep and with our depth we wore Trenton down. There was nothing magical done at halftime.”
Moore scored inside to give Linden its second lead and the advantage for good at 29-28, opening up the second half scoring. He then hit a jumper and followed that basket up with another field goal off an offensive rebound to begin separation.
Linden would score the first eight points of the third quarter and begin the second-half on a game-changing 21-1 run. Moore closed the surge with a conventional 3-point play.
“They imposed their will on us in the third quarter,” Grant said.
“We knew Moore was going to be tough, he’s a tough player,” George said.
Moore has played on three sectional championship teams and two of those squads won Group 4 semifinal games. He was determined not to let this be his final high school game.
Winning a state championship and having the opportunity to play in a Tournament of Champions was much too important.
“We struggled a little bit in the first half, but coach kept on encouraging us,” said Moore, who chose Cincinnati over Seton Hall.
Twelve months ago the Tigers lost in the Group 4 final to Atlantic City 60-54 in overtime, a game Moore had not forgotten going into Sunday’s Group 4 title game.
“Last year was very heartbreaking,” Moore said. “We worked extra hard in the summer and didn’t cut any corners.”
“Moore had 22 points and 21 rebounds and I don’t know how many blocks and if that isn’t enough I don’t know what is,” Colicchio said. “He’s been so maligned throughout his career. He’s a special player and today he did it inside.”
Trenton also deserves credit for the way it came back from a game-high 19-point deficit of 48-29 after Moore produced another conventional 3-point play late in the third quarter. The Tornadoes, on two free throws by George for a 5-0 run, pulled to within nine at 56-47 with 2:57 remaining.
“We don’t have any Division 1 players, but through hard work and discipline we never give up,” Grant said. “Our goal from day one was to win a state championship.”
Before Trenton could creep back into the contest any further, Linden went on a 6-0 run, including two big free throws by James Julius, another layup by Livingston and an inside basket by Joshua Carter.
Livingston did not score in the first quarter, but his third layup gave Linden its first lead of 24-22 midway through the second.
“We played against Livingston in the summer and knew he could handle pressure,” Grant said.
“Livingston has been outstanding for us, but we don’t have one primary ball-handler,” Colicchio said. “All of our guys share the ball.”
Taking over a game defensively, like Linden did this time in the third quarter, has been the program’s trademark since Colicchio took over in 1997.
“It seems like they were stuck on 28 (points) for a long time,” Colicchio said. “Offense is nice, but defense wins championships and today we dug in.”
NOTES: This will be Linden’s fourth TOC appearance, with the Tigers 2-3 in their previous three. Linden was the top seed the last time it was in the TOC in 2007 and after a bye fell to Bloomfield Tech in the semifinals at Rutgers on a halfcourt, buzzer-beating, 3-pointer by junior R.J. Hall.
Linden reached the TOC final for the only time in 2006, falling to St. Patrick.
GROUP 4 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AT RUTGERS
N2-LINDEN (26-4) 10 17 21 18 – 66
Central-TRENTON (27-3) 15 13 5 20 – 53
LINDEN TIGERS (66):
23-Alonzo Hamilton, senior, 0-0-0-0
30-Quadri Moore, senior, 9-0-4-22
2-Joshua Carter, junior, 2-0-0-4
3-Otis Livingston, junior, 5-2-4-20
5-Juwan Jones, senior, 2-1-0-7
1-Juwan Dolbrice, junior, 1-0-2-4
4-James Julius, junior, 2-0-3-7
12-Rick’keem Mixson, sophomore, 0-0-2-2
24 Quinton Dixon, junior 0-0-0-0
25-William Sessoms, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Carter, Livingston,
Jones, Hamilton, Moore.
TRENTON TORNADOES (53):
10-Kenar Gulley, senior, 1-1-1-6
11-Brandon George, senior, 4-0-3-11
1-Nazier McKoy, senior, 6-0-0-12
2-Shaquan Worthy, senior, 2-1-1-8
5-Herbie Ellis, junior, 1-0-3-5
3-Ezren Bell, senior, 0-0-0-0
12-Naquan Ingram, senior, 2-0-0-4
13-Daniel Peyton, junior, 1-0-0-2
14-Phillip Ravenell, junior, 0-0-0-0
20-Derrick Dix, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
23-Kenyon Tootle, sophomore, 1-0-3-5
Starters: McKoy, Worthy,
Ellis, Gulley, George.