TRENTON – Playing from behind was probably the first thing Linden wrote down that it did not want to have to do against favored St. Anthony.
Not only did St. Anthony make the game’s first shot – a basket from the left side – but the Friars jumped out to a quick five-point lead.
That advantage grew to eight after the first eight minutes.
To Linden’s credit, the Tigers came right back and outscored St. Anthony in the second quarter to trail by only four at intermission.
Seeking to continue its comeback, Linden was derailed in the third quarter, failing to score double digits while St. Anthony really began to take control.
After Linden cut its deficit to 10 again, St. Anthony senior guard Asante Gist came right back to produce a 3-pointer that put the Friars up 13 going into the final quarter.
St. Anthony remained in total control in the fourth, with Gist hitting another 3-pointer to put the Friars ahead by 16 with less than five-and-a-half minutes remaining.
No matter what Linden did St. Anthony had an answer for it.
That’s always – except for just one game – been the case in the Tournament of Champions.
Top-seeded St. Anthony went on to produce a dominant – almost leading from start to finish – 55-38 victory over third-seeded Linden in Monday night’s 28th annual boys’ basketball Tournament of Champions championship game at Sun National Bank Center.
In the girls’ TOC final that took place first, Non-Public, A state champion and top-seeded St. John Vianney of Holmdel defeated Group 2 state champ and third-seeded Manasquan 65-58 in double overtime. St. John Vianney has now won the most girls’ TOC titles with seven. Defending champion Manasquan, playing in the final for the third straight season and for the fourth time in the last five, was seeking its third TOC crown.
Non-Public, B state champion St. Anthony finished 32-0 and captured its first TOC title since 2012. The Friars have won the most with 13 and are now 13-1 in the championship game in 14 TOC appearances.
St. Anthony’s TOC overall record is 28-1, including a 25-game winning streak. The only loss the Friars suffered in TOC play was in the 1990 final to Elizabeth, which was the first of only four public school teams to win the event.
Group 4 state champion Linden had an eight-game winning streak snapped and finished another fine season at 25-6. Unfortunately for the Tigers, their fifth Group 4 state championship season had to end in a loss in the TOC and for the third time to a parochial school.
Linden was appearing in its second TOC final and first in 10 years. The Tigers are now 5-5 in TOC play after winning two TOC games for the second time.
Camden in 2000 remains the last public school team to win the TOC.
St. Anthony head coach Bob Hurley has now guided the Friars to undefeated seasons eight times during his 44 seasons at the helm. His previous two TOC championship teams 2011 (31-0) and 2012 (32-0) were has last undefeated squads prior to this season.
When a team with very little expectations goes 25-6, reaches the Union County Tournament semifinals, wins the North 2, Group 4 sectional state championship for the fourth straight season and then wins the Group 4 state championship for the fifth time since 2000 and for the second time in three years, much is to be applauded.
Throw in the fact that Linden won two TOC games, including topping one-loss Non-Public, A state champion St. Augustine in the semifinals. Linden was the underdog against St. Augustine as it was against a senior-laden St. Anthony squad.
It might have been too much to ask Linden to have beaten both St. Augustine and St. Anthony back-to-back, but the Tigers were up to the task, gave it their best shot, and came away with a victory against one of those two very formidable foes.
Gist, who played on Roselle Catholic’s 2013 TOC championship team three years ago as a freshman on the same court when the Lions downed St. Joseph’s, Metuchen and junior Karl-Anthony Towns 65-49, led all scorers with a solid 16-point performance. Gist also became the first player to play on two different TOC championship teams.
Junior guard-forward Khalief Crawford paced Linden with a 13-point effort, while talented sophomore guard Tavon Jones, still with two big years ahead of him, poured in 12 for the Tigers.
After trailing 12-4 following the first eight minutes, Linden – which played its best basketball of the night in the second quarter – quickly cut the lead to three at 12-9, starting with a 3-pointer from Jones.
Behind two 3-pointers from junior point guard Joey Krempa and a free throw from reserve senior forward Fritz Moncion that capped an 8-4 Linden run, the Tigers managed to even the score at 16-16.
St. Anthony answered by scoring the final four points of the first half, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Gist, who proved clutch with his outside shooting for most of the contest.
St. Anthony began the fourth quarter with a 13-point lead and never looked back. The biggest Friar lead was 18 at 53-35 following a basket by junior guard R.J. Cole, who finished with 11 points.
Also scoring in double digits for St. Anthony were senior guard Jagan Mosely and senior forward Idris Joyner, both netting 10 points.
Gist finished with a game-high four 3-pointers, while Crawford produced three for Linden.
The Tigers, who made 29 free throws against Atlantic City in their 54-45 Group 4 championship game win at Rutgers, were held to just two made free throws against St. Anthony.
Linden did not lose to a public school team this season and has only one loss to a public school team the past two seasons.
2016 TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS FINAL
3-Linden (25-6) 04 16 08 10 – 38
1-St. Anthony (32-0) 12 12 17 14 – 55
LINDEN TIGERS (38):
1-Khalief Crawford, junior, 2-3-0-13
13-Tavon Jones, sophomore, 4-1-1-11
3-Joey Krempa, junior, 1-2-0-7
10-Tafari Lowe, junior, 1-0-0-2
2-Fritz Moncion, senior, 0-0-1-1
20-William Phelps, senior, 1-0-0-2
Starters: Phelps, Crawford,
Jones, Krempa, Lowe.
ST ANTHONY FRIARS (55):
2-R.J. Cole, junior, 2-2-1-11
1-Juvaris Hayes, senior, 1-0-0-2
0-Jagan Mosely, senior, 4-0-2-10
11-Shyqian Gibbs, senior, 0-0-4-4
3-Asante Gist, senior, 2-4-0-16
13-Idris Joyner, senior, 4-0-2-10
4-Daniel Mading, junior, 1-0-0-2
Starters: Mosely, Cole,
Hayes, Joyner, Gibbs.
TOC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SCORES:
2016: St. Anthony 55, Linden 38
2015: Roselle Catholic 57, Pope John 45
2014: St. Joseph’s, Metuchen 49, Newark East Side 47
2013: Roselle Catholic 65, St. Joseph’s, Metuchen 49
2012: St. Anthony 66, Plainfield 62
2011: St. Anthony 61, Plainfield 49
2010: Trenton Catholic 53, Camden Catholic 39
2009: St. Patrick 59, Science Park 57
2008: St. Anthony 69, Science Park 36
2007: St. Patrick 85, Bloomfield Tech 61
2006: St. Patrick 61, Linden 54
2005: Seton Hall Prep 63, St. Patrick 60
2004: St. Anthony 67, Bloomfield Tech 55
2003: St. Patrick 61, Camden Catholic 38
2002: St. Anthony 69, Neptune 49
2001: St. Anthony 48, Shabazz 47
2000: Camden 50, Seton Hall Prep 46
1999: Seton Hall Prep 54, Teaneck 45
1998: St. Patrick 62, Seton Hall Prep 49
1997: St. Anthony 69, Seton Hall Prep 63
1996: St. Anthony 65, Shawnee 57 (OT)
1995: St. Anthony 47, Shawnee 44
1994: Orange 64, Paterson Catholic 56
1993: St. Anthony 84, Middle Township 59
1992: Shawnee 46, Marist 41
1991: St. Anthony 63, Seton Hall Prep 39
1990: Elizabeth 65, St. Anthony 62
1989: St. Anthony 62, Elizabeth 55
St. Anthony (13)
St. Patrick (5)
Roselle Catholic (2)
Seton Hall Prep (2)
St. Joseph’s, Metuchen (1)
Trenton Catholic (1)