UNION – Roselle Catholic was all set to do battle – once again – with Linden in order to advance to another county championship game.
However, on a night when senior bigs Nazreon Reid and Alanzo Frink were not their typical dominating presence inside, Roselle Catholic’s battle cry came this time from its starting shooting guard.
Roselle Catholic went to battle alright. More specifically the Lions went to Jason Battle, who in this game – more often then not – provided the clutch filling-of-the-hoop that ultimately propelled the Lions to another important county tournament triumph.
The 5-8 starting senior guard stood tallest Tuesday night at Kean University’s Harwood Arena as his team-high 18-point performance – including a game-high four 3-pointers – lifted top-seeded Roselle Catholic past fourth-seeded Linden 65-56 in the second Union County Tournament semifinal.
The first at Kean Tuesday night saw second-seeded and two-time defending champion The Patrick School of Elizabeth come back and turn away third-seeded St. Mary’s of Elizabeth 72-57.
The oldest county tournament in the state will conclude Saturday at Kean at 7 p.m. with TPS seeking a third straight title over an RC program that – believe it or not – is still seeking its first crown.
Roselle Catholic is now 21-4 and has won four straight and seven of eight. All four losses were to out-of-state competition.
The Lions not only swept Linden as part of capturing the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division title perfect at 8-0, they also swept TPS, winning 75-63 at Kean on Jan. 20 and 69-67 in a barnburner at home on Feb. 3.
After falling behind 10-3 early on Linden hung very tough against RC and actually produced six leads, its last being 31-29 with the first basket of the second half after a 29-29 halftime score. To give Linden even more credit a 3-pointer made from the left side by lefty-shooting Mikey Watkins pulled the Tigers to within 60-54 with 2:46 remaining.
Senior guard Tavon Jones paced Linden with a game-high 21-point effort, with Jones scoring 14 in the second half. Senior Luis Rodriguez added 13 points, including three 3-pointers, while Watkins finished with nine.
Linden was hurt in the first half by some missed free throws.
You tip your hat to Linden once again and now the Tigers (19-6) will go after capturing North 2, Group 4 for the sixth consecutive year. Linden came into Tuesday night’s game on a five-game winning streak and had won eight of nine with the only loss in that stretch being its road setback at RC.
Frink and Josh Pierre-Louis – Pierre Louis off the bench – each finished with 11 points for RC, while Reid was held to nine. Starters Ithiel Horton and Khalil Whitney added seven each, with Whitney scoring all seven of his points in the second half, including Roselle Catholic’s first four on two thunderous dunks early in the third quarter. All three of Whitney’s baskets came on dunks.
However, with 3:03 remaining Whitney was extracted from the game after garnering his second technical foul.
Battle’s first basket was the result of a steal and layup that gave RC the first of its seven leads at 5-3 – the first six Lion leads came in the first half.
Battle’s next basket was his first 3, a shot he made from the left side that extended Roselle Catholic’s lead to 13-5, which was the biggest by either side during the first 16 minutes.
His second 3, this one from the left side, put RC up 24-20 midway through the second quarter. RC moved the ball around well enough to where Battle was able to get open and have enough time to fire his shot before it could be batted away. Battle immediately had the hot hand, scoring eight points in the first half.
Battle’s third 3-pointer – also from the left side – came early in the third quarter and increased RC’s lead to 36-32. His next two points were his only free throws, which extended the Lion lead to 40-34.
Battle again got free on the left side and made his fourth and final 3-pointer to put RC up by a 47-36 margin near the end of the third quarter.
Battle’s final basket and points came on a layup midway through the fourth, giving RC a 58-48 advantage.
A layup by Rodriguez gave Linden its sixth and final lead of 31-29. RC quickly answered with a 9-1 run to start to separate itself scoreboard-wise.
The first half included six RC leads, five Linden leads, three ties (3-3, 15-15 at the end of the first quarter and 29-29 at the end of the second) and nine lead changes. Linden’s biggest lead was three points at 3-0 when Rodriguez opened the game by hitting a 3-pointer from the right side.
Like RC, TPS made its big move in the second half after coming back to take a one-point lead at intermission by the score of 23-22. St. Mary’s fought off early deficits of 5-0 and 7-2 to take seven-point leads of 18-11 and 20-13. However, the Hilltoppers also missed five first-half layups.
Senior big man Vladir Manuel was able to score inside and outside for TPS vs. SM. He seemed to get more satisfaction out of making 3s as he gestured to the crowd immediately after hitting from long-range.
His 3-point basket from the top of the key gave the Celtics their fourth lead and the advantage for good early in the third quarter, with the score moving to 29-28.
Manuel scored 19 of his game-high 28 points in the final 16 minutes as for almost the entird fourth quarter TPS held a double-digit lead.
Also scoring in double digits for the Celtics were junior guard Daryl Banks with 15 and junior Al-Amir Dawes.
Scoring in double-digits for the Hilltoppers – who also lost a UCC –crossover game to TPS at Hillside – were senior Calistus Anyichie with 12, junior Izaya Delbrune with 11 off the bench and senior Jayvon Jackson with 11.
TPS won for the second straight time and for the fifth time in its past six games to improve to 14-9. St. Mary’s, the UCC’s Mountain Division champion perfect at 6-0, saw its record slip to 17-7.
NOTES: St. Patrick-The Patrick School has won the second-most UCT titles with 20. Jefferson-Elizabeth is first with 21.
Since the 1993 tournament 25 years ago, the Celtics are 18-5 in their last 23 title-game appearances. The only two years the Celtics did not reach the final since 1993 were in 2012 and 2015.
The Celtics last loss the UCT final in 2007 to Linden. The only other years they lost in the final since 1993 were in 1995 to Elizabeth, 2001 to Linden, 2002 to Elizabeth and 2004 to Elizabeth.
Roselle Catholic is 0-4 in the final, with losses in the 1963, 2012, 2015 and 2016 championship games. RC lost to TPS 58-54 in double overtime in the 2016 final at Kean.
FIRST BOYS’ BASKETBALL UCT SEMIFINAL AT KEAN
3-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth (17-7) 11 11 16 19 – 57
2-The Patrick School (14-9) 07 16 21 28 – 72
3-ST. MARY’S HILLTOPPERS (57):
4-Izaya Delbrune, junior, 0-2-5-11
24-Calistus Anyichie, senior, 4-0-4-12
1-Jayvon Jackson, senior, 0-2-5-11
13-Pappie Roberts, junior, 3-0-1-7
23-Carmir Ochiaka, senior, 2-0-5-9
11-Kyle McGee, junior, 0-0-3-3
5-Zegary Scott, senior, 1-0-2-4
Starters: Jackson, Scott,
Roberts, Ochiaka, Anyichie.
2-THE PATRICK SCHOOL CELTICS (72):
14-Vladir Manuel, senior, 9-3-1-28
1-Markquis Nowell, senior, 2-0-3-7
00-Daryl Banks, junior, 0-3-6-15
2-Al-Amir Dawes, junior, 4-0-3-11
25-Alejandro Vasquez, junior, 1-0-4-6
15-Majur Majak, senior, 1-0-0-2
21-Giorgio Bezhanishvili, senior, 1-0-1-3
Starters: Banks, Nowell,
Dawes, Manuel, Bezhanishvili.
SECOND BOYS’ BASKETBALL UCT SEMIFINAL AT KEAN
4-Linden (19-6) 15 14 11 16 – 56
1-Roselle Catholic (21-4) 15 14 20 16 – 65
4-LINDEN TIGERS (56):
1-Tavon Jones, senior, 4-1-10-21
5-Mikey Watkins, senior, 3-1-0-9
4-Luis Rodriguez, senior, 2-3-0-13
14-Amir Williams, sophomore, 1-1-0-5
13-Myles Ruth, sophomore, 3-0-0-6
3-Jaylin Cooper-Reid, senior, 1-0-0-2
Starters: Cooper-Reid, Jones,
Rodriguez, Ruth, Watkins.
1-ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS (65):
5-Nazreon Reid, senior, 2-1-2-9
22-Josh Pierre-Louis, junior, 2-1-4-11
3-Colby Rogers, junior, 0-0-2-2
4-Jason Battle, senior, 2-4-2-18
2-Khalil Whitney, junior, 3-0-1-7
12-Ithiel Horton, senior, 3-0-1-7
20-Alanzo Frink, senior, 5-0-1-11
Starters: Battle, Frink,
Reid, Horton, Whitney.