Arguably the two best public school high school boys’ basketball teams in the state will clash for the second straight season in the North 2, Group 4 championship game.
The when is the same as last year – March 7.
The where is also the same – at the cozy confines of Linden High School’s now famous Phil Colicchio Court.
The difference is that this time both second-seeded Newark East Side (25-3) and top-seeded and four-time defending champion Linden (23-4) were afforded three days of rest compared to just one last year.
Both teams have the ultimate goal of winning Group 4 and then becoming the first public school team to win the Tournament of Champions since Camden in 2000.
In order to have the opportunity to accomplish those lofty feats, Tuesday night’s game must first be taken care of.
The March 7, 2016 clash – played on a Monday night at LHS – drew a full house, with many fans having to be turned away. The game could be considered a classic.
Top-seeded Linden, a slight favorite, led third-seeded Newark East Side by as many as 14 points in the first half. The Tiger lead was six going into the fourth quarter.
After Newark East Side’s dramatic comeback in the fourth quarter the Red Raiders then scored the first basket in overtime to take their first lead since 7-6. Linden battled back, led by sophomore Tavon Jones who after missing free throws earlier in the game came through in the clutch at the free throw line in OT.
Linden went from narrowly losing to producing a 62-59 OT triumph that propelled the Tigers to a second Group 4 state championship in three years and then the program’s second appearance in a TOC final and first in 10 years.
Linden is 8-4 in North 2, Group 4 finals under head coach Phi Colicchio.
This is his 13th sectional final in 20 seasons at Linden since taking
over in 1997-1998.
Wins: 2000, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.
Losses: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2008.
Linden will seek to tie the mark of five straight North 2, Group 4 titles won by Ben Candelino-coached Elizabeth Minutemen squads from 1987-1991. The Tigers have captured the section the last four years and five of the last six.
Under head coach Phil Colicchio, Linden is 8-4 in the North 2, Group 4 final, with the Tigers on Tuesday night making their 13th appearance in the game during Colicchio’s 20th season at the helm.
Contrastly, Newark East Side has not captured the North 2, Group 4 championship since it repeated as champions in 2002, which was present Brooklyn Nets player Randy Foye’s senior season. The Red Raiders have won North 2, Group 3 since, capturing that title in 2014 en route to the Group 3 crown and TOC final.
Last year’s East Side squad finished 24-8, finishing second to Seton Hall Prep in the American Division of the Super Essex Conference and the Essex County Tournament and to Linden in North 2, Group 4.
This year’s group shared the American Division title with Newark West Side – both going 10-2and beating each other in division play – and then defeated West Side in the ECT final, so a third championship is now right there for the Newark school.
Linden and Patrick School shared the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division title (both went 7-1 and defeated each other), while Patrick School defeated Linden in the Union County Tournament championship game.
Linden is seeking – big time – to make up for its second setback to Patrick School on Feb. 25.
Newark East is seeking – also big time – to make up for coming up just a bit short 12 months ago on Phil Colicchio Court.
As expected, neither squad was challenged in their first three state tournament games – all easy, double-digit victories.
This is the game.
Tuesday night is the night.
Do-or-die public school basketball at its best, with the winning team moving on and the team that does not win cleaning out its locker while pondering what could have been.
NEWARK EAST SIDE HAS 7 100-PLUS POINT SCORERS
The Red Raiders, who have won seven straight, have seven players who have scored at least 100 points, including Stony Brook-bound senior Elijah Olaniyi, who leads the team with 373. He started last year’s game and scored just two points.
Making a major impact in the fourth quarter of East Side’s 43-38 ECT final victory over West Side at Essex County College Feb. 25 was freshman Mikah Johnson, who scored eight of his nine points in the period. East Side won the fourth quarter 16-10 after trailing by one after three quarters.
Other players with at least 100 points include junior Hassan Ceesay with 300, junior Shamir Johnson with 282, junior Jahid Jenkins with 244, sophomore Anas Amos with 188 and senior Amadu Benbow with 108.
Darnell Brodie has scored 52 points in his six games with the team so far, transferring from playing one year at Putnam Science Academy in Putnam, Conn. He played his freshman and sophomore years at East Side.
In his return, Brodie paced East Side with 18 points in its 59-56 ECT semifinal round victory over Montclair Immaculate Feb. 21 at West Orange.
Two impact players on last year’s team that are not with the squad this year include 2016 juniors Tyrese Jenkins and Quaion Taylor.
Jenkins, who paced East Side in last year’s game against Linden with 16 points, is not on the roster. Taylor transferred to West Side.
2-NEWARK EAST SIDE RED RAIDERS (25-3, won 7 in a row):
3-Anas Amos (5-6), sophomore
2-Amadu Benbow (6-2), senior
11-Hassan Ceesay (6-3), junior
4-Jahid Jenkins (6-0), junior
10-Shamir Johnson (5-10), junior
1-Elijah Olaniyi (6-5), senior
14-DeAndre Speight (6-7), junior
24-Mikah Johnson (6-4), freshman
20-Darnell Brodie (6-10), senior
12-Keron Williams (6-1), junior
13-Jeter DeLeon (6-3), sophomore
22-Izalm Jerome (6-3), junior
23-James Paul (5-11), sophomore
24-Denzel Small (6-4), sophomore
Head coaches: Anthony Tavares, Bryant Garvin
LINDEN DEFENSE READY TO DO ITS PART
Linden, on a three-game winning streak, has given up less than 50 points in six of its last eight games and less than 40 in four of those.
When the Tigers set the tone with their suffocating man-to-man – especially in their own gym – they can be very difficult to deal with.
You want to play well and consistently for 32 minutes. Perhaps Linden getting out to a 14-point lead in the second quarter last year might have taken some of their intensity away for a very brief period.
If it did, East Side capitalized and did not give up, taking Linden all the way to overtime. You can be sure that if Linden is presented with the same scenario the Tigers will guard against any kind of possible similar lapse.
One of the top juniors in the state, Linden’s Tavon Jones, is 23 points shy of 500 for the season and is a player East Side will have to constantly keep their eye on. Jones was a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line in overtime of last year’s game which, obviously, was huge for the Tigers.
One of the state’s top seniors is Khalief Crawford, who in Linden’s initial state tournament game against Perth Amboy reached 1,000 career points. He is Linden’s second leading scorer with 394.
Linden’s other three players with at least 100 points include junior Mikey Watkins with 270, off-the-bench senior sharpshooter Marcellus Livingston with 240 and senior point guard Joey Krempa with 148.
Linden was unable to get Livingston involved as much as it would have liked to against Patrick School in its 58-44 Feb. 25 UCT final loss at Kean. Livingston was 0-for-3 from the field and did not attempt a 3-point shot – he was 0-for-2 from long range – until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
1-LINDEN TIGERS (23-4, won 3 in a row):
1-Khalief Crawford (6-10), senior
2-Joey Krempa (5-11), senior
3-Marcellus Livingston (6-3), senior
5-Mikey Watkins (6-0), junior
12-Abraham Kromah (5-11), senior
13-Tavon Jones (6-3), junior
14-Jordan Ragland (6-3), junior
15-Kyree Rogers (6-3), senior
10-Derrick Lewis (6-4), senior
20-DeAndre Clark (6-0), senior
33-Robert Gaudenzi (6-2), senior
22-Mar’kel McDuffie (5-10), junior
23-Dane Doyle, (5-11), senior
24-Malcolm King (6-4), junior
25-Luis Rodriguez (5-11), junior
Head coach: Phil Colicchio
Assistants: Anthony Drejaj, Marty Luc,
Michael Pozyc, Michael Campo, Desmond Wade.
2017 NORTH 2, GROUP 4 BOYS’ BASKETBALL
SEEDS: 1-Linden. 2-Newark East Side. 3-Scotch Plains. 4-Millburn.
5-Woodbridge. 6-Bridgewater-Raritan. 7-Bayonne. 8-Columbia.
9-Dickinson. 10-Piscataway. 11-Philipsburg. 12-Westfield.
13-Union. 14-North Hunterdon. 15-Watchung Hills. 16-Perth Amboy.
Monday, Feb. 27
Linden 78, Perth Amboy 32
Columbia 61, Dickinson 55
Woodbridge 51, Westfield 50
Union 64, Millburn 61
Scotch Plains 74, North Hunterdon 69
Bridgewater-Raritan 69, Phillispburg 60
Piscataway 66, Bayonne 59
Newark East Side 83, Watchung Hills 55
Wednesday, March 1
Linden 67, Columbia 50
Woodbridge 75, Union 64
Bridgewater-Raritan 59, Scotch Plains 49
Newark East Side 86, Piscataway 30
Friday, March 3
Linden 66, Woodbridge 39
Newark East Side 70, Bridgewater-Raritan 44
Tuesday, March 7
2-Newark East Side at 1-Linden, 7 p.m.
NORTH 2, GROUP 4
BOYS’ BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS
THE LAST 41 SEASONS:
2016 – Linden
2015 – Linden
2014 – Linden
2013 – Linden
2012 – Elizabeth
2011 – Linden
2010 – Plainfield
2009 – Plainfield
2008 – Piscataway
2007 – Linden
2006 – Linden
2005 – Bridgewater-Raritan
2004 – Plainfield
2003 – Elizabeth
2002 – Newark East Side
2001 – Newark East Side
2000 – Linden
1999 – Union
1998 – Newark East Side
1997 – Union
1996 – Linden
1995 – Elizabeth
1994 – Montclair
1993 – Irvington
1992 – Irvington
1991 – Elizabeth
1990 – Elizabeth
1989 – Elizabeth
1988 – Elizabeth
1987 – Elizabeth
1986 – Montclair
1985 – Elizabeth
1984 – East Orange
1983 – Plainfield
1982 – Montclair
1981 – Shabazz
1980 – Barringer
1979 – Union
1978 – Linden
1977 – Bloomfield
1976 – Plainfield