The first words head Coach Phil Colicchio ushered in the press room at Rutgers after he guided the Linden boys’ basketball team to a fifth Group 4 state championship and second in three years were, “this never gets old.”
Following discussion of his team’s thorough 54-45 win over Atlantic City, Colicchio said: “we want to become the first Linden team to win the Tournament of Champions. This is a great time of the year to still be practicing.”
The Tigers are indeed still practicing and are now also just 32 minutes away from not only winning their first TOC championship, but ending two very long streaks.
It’s been 26 years since their opponent Monday night at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton – St. Anthony of Jersey City – lost a TOC game.
It’s also been 16 years since a public school team won the TOC, Camden the last to do so in 2000.
ONLY PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO WIN THE TOC:
2000: Camden, the Group 3 state champion
1994: Orange, the Group 3 state champion
1992: Shawnee, the Group 4 state champion
1990: Elizabeth, the Group 4 state champion
Linden is in the final for the second time and first time since 2006 when the Tigers upended top-seeded Bloomfield Tech in the semifinals.
St. Anthony, owners of the most TOC titles by far with 12, is in the TOC and the TOC final both for the first time since 2012.
This is the first of five TOCs that Linden is the lone school involved from Union County. St. Patrick was also in the 2000, 2006 and 2007 TOCs that Linden was in and Roselle Catholic the 2014 one the Tigers were a part of.
For the fifth time in the past six seasons a school from Union County (Plainfield 2011 and 2012 and Roselle Catholic 2013 and 2015) is in the TOC final.
Linden is tied for second with Bloomfield Tech among public schools with five TOC victories. Both teams have reached two finals. Shawnee, which captured the 1992 crown, has the most with six.
St. Anthony is 27-1 overall in the TOC and has a 24-game winning streak. The Friars have reached the final in all 14 TOCs they have appeared in, with a record of 12-1 in the championship game. In only one year did St. Anthony need to win three games to win the crown, which was in 1995 when the Friars were the third seed.
St. Anthony is the only team to win three straight TOCs – 1995, 1996 and 1997 – and its only loss was to Elizabeth in the 1990 final when the Minutemen – who lost the first final in 1989 to an undefeated St. Anthony Team – was led by Seton Hall-bound senior center Luther Wright.
The Friars have never gone four straight years without appearing in the TOC since the event commenced in 1989. The 1988-1989 St. Anthony team not only repeated as state champs and then went on to win the first TOC, but the Friars finished 32-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country in the final USA Today national rankings. That squad was sparked by Duke-bound senior guard Bobby Hurley, son of still head coach and nationally-renowned Bob Hurley.
What Bob Hurley is to St. Anthony basketball, Colicchio has become to Linden hoops. The Linden gym is named after Colicchio, with the 1984 Elizabeth graduate leading the Tigers to all five of their group state championships.
Colicchio, who was an assistant coach on Ben Candelino’s staff in 1990 when St. Anthony suffered its only TOC loss, has also led Linden to its last three of 11 Union County Tournament championships. The 2007 Tigers defeated two-time defending champion St. Patrick 63-51 in the 2007 UCT final at the Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth, leading from start to finish. St. Patrick finished 30-2 that season, with the loss to Linden costing the Celtics the final No. 1 national ranking in USA Today. St. Patrick finished No. 2.
In his 19 seasons at the helm of the Tigers Colicchio has also guided Linden to 12 North 2, Group 4 championship games. His record in the state sectional final is 8-4, with Linden winning the last four in a row. The Tigers became only the second team to win as many as four straight.
His 400th victory came at Rutgers in the Group 4 state championship win over Atlantic City. After leading Elizabeth’s junior varsity basketball team to numerous JV county championships, Colicchio’s first stint as a head coach was at Barringer for one year in 1996-1997 before he took over the reigns from highly-successful Wilber Aiken at Linden in 1997-1998.
In his second year Colicchio had Linden back in the North 2, Group 4 final. In his third year he guided the Tigers to their first-ever group state championship.
Colicchio then led Linden to back-to-back Group 4 state championships in 2006 and 2007, with those squads led by – among many others – Desmond Wade in the backcourt and Muhammad Wilkerson in the front. Wade helped lead Linden to two state championships and four North 2, Group 4 finals in his four years at Linden and has his No. 11 retired in Linden’s gym. Wilkerson, after a standout collegiate football career at Temple, is now a sought-after New York Jets free agent.
LINDEN’S BIGGEST TOC WIN SINCE DEFEATING
TOP-SEEDED BLOOMFIELD TECH IN 2006 SEMIFINALS
Linden’s semifinal win over second-seeded Non-Public, A state champion St. Augustine 59-56 Thursday night at Pine Belt Arena was its biggest TOC triumph since the Tigers topped top-seeded Bloomfield Tech 48-42 at Rutgers in the 2006 semifinals.
Senior forward William Phelps paced Linden with 21 points vs. one-loss St. Augustine, while junior guard Tafari Lowe added 17.
Linden improved to 25-5 with its eighth straight victory. After falling to Roselle Catholic in the Union County Tournament semifinals, the Tigers knew that it would take a 9-0 run to win their first TOC title. Linden is at 8-0 and now has the opportunity to make 9-0 a reality.
The Tigers did not lose to a public school team this season.
Non-Public, B state champion St. Anthony, the TOC’s top seed once again, had very little trouble with fourth-seeded Group 3 state champion Teaneck in Thursday night’s first semifinal at Pine Belt Arena.
Behind senior Jagan Mosely’s 14 points – Mosely also reached 1,000 points for his career – the undefeated Friars (31-0) roared past the Highwaymen 67-30. St. Anthony ended the game on a 44-9 run.
Under Colicchio, Linden has one win over St. Anthony and Bob Hurley. The Tigers defeated the Friars at Linden 55-40 on Feb. 1, 2005. Two years later at Linden’s gym, Linden almost beat St. Anthony again in the regular season before falling for only the second time during the regular season that year. Linden finished 30-3 for the 2006-2007 campaign – winning the UCT; North 2, Group 4; and Group 4 in the same season for the only time.
LINDEN TOC RESULTS (5-4)
2016 – 3rd seed (2-0 so far)
Defeated 6th-seeded University 62-47 at Toms River North
Defeated 2nd-seeded St. Augustine 59-56 at Toms River North
3-Linden vs. 1-St. Anthony in final at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton
2014 – 4th seed (1-1)
Defeated 5th-seeded Pitman 64-60 at Toms River North
Lost to top-seeded St. Joe’s, Metuchen 63-59 at Monmouth University
2007 – Top seed (0-1)
Lost to 5th-seeded Bloomfield Tech 59-56 at Rutgers
2006 – 5th seed (2-1)
Defeated 4th-seeded Seton Hall Prep 62-43 at Toms River North
Defeated top-seeded Bloomfield Tech 48-42 at Rutgers
Lost to second-seeded St. Patrick 61-54 at East Rutherford
2000 – 4th seed (0-1)
Lost to 5th-seeded Mendham 61-57 at Dunn Center
NOTES: Linden’s first TOC game 16 years ago was the second game of a doubleheader at the Dunn Sport Center in Elizabeth, with Group 3 state champion and third-seeded Camden taking on Group 1 state champ and sixth-seeded Florence in the opener.
Camden was led then by high-scoring junior Dujuan Wagner, who in one game at Camden scored 100 points. In front of a packed-to-capacity Dunn Center crowd that came to see Wagner in person for the first time, Camden trimmed Florence 73-48.
Linden, the fourth seed, fell to fifth-seeded Mendham 61-57 in the nightcap. Mendham was coached then by one of the best, if not the best, coaches to ever come out of Morris County – Jim Baglin – and its star player was University of Pennsylvania bound-senior Jeff Schiffner.
2016 TOC RESULTS/SCHEDULE:
1-St. Anthony (Non-Public, B state champ)
2-St. Augustine (Non-Public, A state champ)
3-Linden (Group 4 state champ)
4-Teaneck (Group 3 state champ)
5-Newark West Side (Group 2 state champ)
6-University (Group 1 state champ)
Tuesday, March 15
At Toms River North (Pine Belt Arena)
Teaneck 71, Newark West Side 62
Linden 62, University 47
Thursday, March 17
At Toms River North (Pine Belt Arena)
St. Anthony 67, Teaneck 30
Linden 59, St. Augustine 56
Monday, March 21
At Sun National Bank Center, Trenton
3-Linden vs. 1-St. Anthony, 8 p.m.