Three of the four boys’ basketball teams from the Union County Conference’s Mountain Division enjoyed championship holiday weeks.
Defending champion St. Mary’s of Elizabeth won twice to capture the Al LoBalbo Memorial Tournament in Elizabeth. The Hilltoppers began January at 5-1 and on a four-game winning streak.
Union Catholic was victorious three times to garner the Joe Silver Tournament at Hillside. The Vikings improved to 5-2 on New Year’s Day by defeating Pope John 74-65 in Paterson for their fifth straight triumph.
Union also rebounded from an 0-2 start and went 3-0 in winning the Matawan Tournament. The Farmers begin January at 4-2.
The other team in the division, Westfield, won its first game Dec. 23 by beating Hackettstown 63-53 at home. The Blue Devils, who won the Mountain Division title in 2016, were then edged by improving Elizabeth 57-55 and by Morristown 61-51 in the Len Sepanak Tournament in Basking Ridge. Westfield begins January at 1-5.
Union followed an overtime loss at home to Elizabeth and a setback at home to Roselle Catholic – both Watchung Division teams – by winning at Westfield 76-65 in its first division game. The Farmers then defeated Tottenville, NY, Old Bridge and Matawan in the Matawan Tournament.
Against Tottenville, Union won the third quarter 27-11 after producing a 39-17 halftime lead. Four Farmers scored in double digits, with Derryen Whyte leading the way with 15. Chimdi Eboh and Tyrone Bowens netted 12 each and Marvellous Akingbala 11.
Akingbala was a key performer on last year’s junior varsity team that repeated as Union County Tournament champions.
Union trailed Old Bridge 33-24 at the break before coming through with another huge third quarter. The Farmers won those eight minutes 19-9 and then outscored their Middlesex County opponent 17-7 in the fourth.
Whyte was the leading scorer again with 24 points, while Jabri Lateef had 12, DeAndrae McFarlane 11 and Akingbala 10.
St. Mary’s defeated Morristown-Beard 82-50 and then Sinai Christian 75-38 to win the LoBalbo event. Izaiah Delbrune paced St. Mary’s with 16 points vs. SC. Papie Roberts added 14 and Zegary Scott II 13.
St. Mary’s was defeated by Bergen Catholic 60-58 in Paterson on New Year’s Day, falling to 5-2.
Union Catholic defeated Winslow 71-56, Newark Tech 68-58 and then East Orange Campus 67-46 in the championship game to win the Joe Silver Tournament.
Against East Orange Campus, Jaheim Tanksley paced the Vikings with a 19-point effort. Robert Miller added 12 points and Giovanni Phillip 11.
Tanksley, a 5-8 junior, scored a team-high 23 points vs. Pope John to earn MVP honors in the New Year’s Jump-Off Tournament at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson. Miller added 18 points, Ibn Lynn 12 and Justin Archer 10.
On Wednesday, Jan. 3 Union will host St. Mary’s at 4 p.m.
On Saturday, Jan. 6 Union Catholic will host Westfield at 1 p.m.
Union County Conference’s Mountain Division standings as of Jan. 3:
1-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth (1-0)
3-Union Catholic (0-0)
UNION’S WHYTE COMING ON AS PREMIER SCORER
Union has been led offensively so far by senior Derryen Whyte, who was named the MVP of the Matawan Tournament.
Whyte led Union in scoring in all three games, netting 15 vs. Tottenville and 24 vs. Old Bridge and Matawan. He also grabbed 10 rebounds in the Matawan victory.
Whyte began the season as Union’s leading scorer in its 67-63 overtime home setback to Elizabeth Dec. 15. He was the only Farmer to score in double digits in that setback.
“Physically, he’s tough to guard inside and he can also hit from outside,” said Union seventh-year head coach Kevin Feeley.
White debuted on varsity last year, with the Farmers closing 14-13.
“He had spot minutes here and there,” Feeley said. “He’s always had athletic abilities. He’s putting together those abilities basketball-wise and going with it.”
White is averaging 18 through Union’s first six contests.
“He’s proven to be tough inside and complimenting that with a nice outside shot,” Feeley said. “He’s been a tough cover early on.”
Union extended a two-point intermission lead in the second half vs. Matawan and played in front in the fourth quarter.
Akingbala earned All-Tournament Team honors.
“It was a really good high school basketball game,” Feeley said. “There was a good crowd there and we had a good crowd as well.
“Both sides played really hard. It felt like we wore them down with our defensive pressure and depth.”
Union will be the underdog when hosting St. Mary’s Wednesday, but the Farmers will have the momentum of a four-game winning streak going in.
“We started with a rough opening night loss,” Feeley said. “It didn’t feel like we clicked. We were very excited and, maybe, a little nervous. We didn’t play like we were capable.”
The loss was not a bad one at all since Elizabeth has opened with a 5-1 record. The Minutemen suffered through an uncharacteristic 3-20 campaign a year ago. The rivals will clash in Elizabeth later in the season.
Union was then defeated at home by Roselle Catholic 63-44.
“We had a couple of good practices,” Feeley said. “We were only down by two at the half against RC.
“We continued our trend after that. Getting back to one possession at a time and winning that possession, that’s our goal.”
State-ranked St. Mary’s has lost by one point and by two and could easily be 7-0.
“I saw them against Westfield and they are tenacious,” Feeley said. “They don’t stop. They play extremely hard and have some talented kids. They never stop playing hard, which is a testament to them.”