UNION – While it was close for three quarters, this time Roselle Catholic was simply not going to be denied.
Not on this night. Not on this year.
This was their county tournament to lose and had been for some time.
So the Lions grabbed hold of the game in the fourth quarter and this time did not let go.
Up 10 with just under a minute remaining, senior guard Jason Battle just dribbled the remaining time off the clock as the crowd was able to – at the same time – pay tribute to the first RC team to capture a county championship.
With senior guard Ithiel Horton leading the way with a brilliant, team-high 20-point performance that included a game-high four 3-pointers, top-seeded Roselle Catholic defeated second-seeded and two-time defending champion The Patrick School 68-58 in Saturday night’s 82nd annual boys’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University’s Harwood Arena.
Roselle Catholic captured its first UCT championship and is now 1-4 in the final. The Lions, who also garnered the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division title perfect at 8-0, improved to 22-4 overall, won their fifth straight and remained undefeated against in-state competition this season.
TPS school, which had won five of six, slipped to 14-10. The Celtics are now 18-6 in the UCT final since 1993. They were attempting to tie Jefferson-Elizabeth with most UCT titles at 21.
TPS lost in the final for the first time since falling to Linden 63-51 (Linden led from start to finish) in the 2007 title contest at the Elizabeth Dunn Center.
RC led 4-0 before TPS went on a 9-0 run. The Celtics led 21-17 at the end of the first quarter, with Vladir Manuel closing the period with a dunk.
The senior big-man paced all scorers with 24 points, including three 3-pointers.
A 3-pointer by Horton from the right side pulled RC to within 25-24 in the second quarter. A dunk by junior guard Khalil Whitney, who finished with 17 points, off an assist from senior Alanzo Frink gave RC its second lead at 26-25.
Battle hit two 3s – one before and one after another big one produced by Horton – late in the second to give RC its biggest first half lead of eight at 35-27. Manuel closed the half with an inside basket to make it 35-29 in favor of RC at intermission.
TPS came back early in the third quarter to tie the game for one more time at 41-41 on a 3-pointer from the left side provided by Al-Amir Dawes. Those turned out to be his only points.
RC quickly responded with a 6-0 run that included a Whitney jumper – which gave the Lions their third advantage and the lead for good at 43-41 – Nazreon’s Reid first points on a thunderous, one-hand dunk with 3:24 to go before the fourth and another Whitney dunk.
A leaping, one-handed dunk from almost the foul line by RC junior guard Josh Pierre-Louis made the score 54-50 in RC’s favor heading into the game’s final eight minutes.
Frink hit two free throws; Whitney made a layup, was fouled and then made the free throw for a 3-point play and then Battle hit a short jumper to put RC up by 11 at 61-50 with five minutes to go.
The Lions were never seriously challenged the rest of the way.
Also producing a fine performance for TPS was senior center Giorgio Bezhanishvili, who finished with 16 points. He hit from outside long range, closer with a hook shot and also penetrated to score closer in the paint.
Frink, who finished with 13 points, produced a 3-point play of his own late in the game. He scored inside, was fouled and made the ensuing free throw.
“We had to play defense and we had to dominate the paint,” Frink said.
Reid was held to just four points, some 10 off his season average. He only made one other field goal after his opening dunk toward the end of the third quarter.
“I thought we rebounded well,” Frink said. “To come out here and win this and be a part of this for the first time is a great feeling.”
RC head coach Dave Boff took over during the 2007-2008 season. Four years later he guided the Lions to only their second UCT championship game appearance.
After some tough UCT defeats, six more years later he has guided the Lions to their first county crown.
“This is something we’ve worked hard for,” Boff said. “I myself did not put enough emphasis into winning this.”
RC won three straight state championships from 2013-2015 – defeating St. Anthony of Jersey City in all three title games – and then concluded its 2013 and 2015 seasons with Tournament of Champions championships.
Now, for the first time, RC enters state tournament play after winning the UCT championship.
“This year’s group wanted this so bad,” Boff said. “I thought we played well tonight. Anytime you can get a win against Pats is a positive thing.”
RC was 0-4 vs. TPS last year. So far they are 3-0 vs. them this year, with one more possible meeting.
“In the beginning of the season we felt we had to win this,” Boff said. “We felt like we had to win this at some point.
“All of our guys stepped up and really played well.”
NOTES: In the section Non-Public, North B, RC and TPS will begin their state tournament play Tuesday.
RC is the top seed and will host 16th-seeded Koinonia Academy of Plainfield, while TPS is the 12th seed and will play at fifth-seeded Montclair Immaculate in first round action. Montclair Immaculate lost Saturday’s Essex County Tournament championship game to defending champion Newark East Side 58-54 at Essex County College in Newark.
82ND ANNUAL BOYS’ BASKETBALL
UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AT KEAN UNIVERSITY
2-The Patrick School (14-10) 21 08 21 08 – 58
1-Roselle Catholic (22-4) 17 18 19 14 – 68
2-THE PATRICK SCHOOL CELTICS (58):
14-Vladir Manuel, senior, 5-3-5-24
1-Markquis Nowell, senior, 1-2-0-8
00-Daryl Banks, junior, 1-1-0-5
2-Al-Amir Dawes, junior, 0-1-0-3
25-Alejandro Vasquez, junior, 0-0-0-0
15-Majur Majak, senior, 1-0-0-2
21-Giorgio Bezhanishvili, senior, 5-1-3-16
Head coach: Chris Chevannes, 7th season
Starters: Banks, Nowell,
Dawes, Bezhanishvili, Manuel.
1-ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS (68):
2-Khalil Whitney, junior, 7-0-3-17
3-Colby Rogers, junior, 0-0-0-0
4-Jason Battle, senior, 1-2-1-9
5-Nazreon Reid, senior, 2-0-0-4
12-Ithiel Horton, senior, 3-4-2-20
20-Alanzo Frink, senior, 3-0-7-13
22-Josh Pierre-Louis, junior, 1-1-0-5
Head coach: Dave Boff, 11th season
Starters: Whitney, Battle,
Reid, Frink, Horton.
RC GIRLS’ WIN THRILLER OVER NEVER-SAY-DIE TPS
It took two free throws by junior center Taniya Hanner and a game-ending steal by senior guard Tyara McQueen for second-seeded Roselle Catholic to turn back top-seeded and defending champion The Patrick School 55-52 in Saturday’s 43rd annual girls’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University’s Harwood Arena in Union.
Hanner, who finished with a team-high 15 points, calmly made her second and third free throws of the game with 2.8 seconds left to extend RC’s lead to 55-52.
Then when TPS attempted to get the ball in for one final 3-point, game-tying attempt, McQueen was there to steal the ball away as time expired.
Roselle Catholic, which finished second to TPS in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division, captured its first UCT title since 2014 and sixth overall. The Lions head into state tournament play with a 21-4 record and seven-game winning streak.
TPS, which captured two of the last three UCT titles, heads into state tournament play with a 20-6 mark after having a five-game winning streak snapped.
TPS won the UCC’s Watchung Division title at 9-1, while RC was second at 8-2. The teams split their division games.
RC began Saturday’s UCT final up 8-0, but trailed 24-23 at intermission.
The Lions then built their biggest lead of nine at 52-43 on a free throw by Kayla Haywood with 1:52 remaining.
RC then had a difficult time getting the ball in and TPS took advantage, going on a 7-0 run that pulled it to with 52-50 with 27.2 seconds to go.
RC turned the ball over again with 19 seconds left. Madison Ruddy missed a 3-pointer, with Hanner coming down with a big rebound and getting fouled with 12.7 seconds left.
Hanner made one of two free throws to make it a 53-50 game.
RC allowed TPS freshman guard Lashae Dwyer to drive the length of the court and make a layup that made it 53-52 with 2.8 seconds remaining.
TPS immediately fouled Hanner, putting her on the line for two as the Lions were in the bonus.
“I was nervous, but I forgot about the one I missed before,” Hanner said.
She made both. Then McQueen stole the ball – making RC the UCT champ for the first time in four years.
“This is so great, we all worked so hard,” said McQueen, who finished with 13 points, including two 3-pointers. “I made a real bad turnover and then my teammates picked me up.”
RC head coach Joe Skrec was really proud with how McQueen excelled defensively against Dwyer, who finished with 13 points, below her season average.
“Tyara did as good of a job covering her (Dwyer) as anyone could,” Skrec said. “She has really improved defensively.
“She also did a great job on Westfield’s No. 22 (senior Molly Ryan, who was held to just seven points by McQueen in the semifinals).”
Sophomore Kayla Haywood added 10 points, while junior Jenissa Encarnacion contributed nine.
“I think that was the most shots Kayla took this season,” Skrec said.
Victoria Jacobs scored eight points, including a 3-pointer early in the second quarter.
“Victoria, I’m happy for her and her family,” Skrec said. “She’s the kind of player that can help the team without scoring. She does it with her rebounding, her defense and her leadership.”
RC saw fourth quarter leads previously vanish in Watchung Division games at home against Westfield and then at TPS at Hillside.
Despite a sloppy final minute, the Lions were able to survive this time with a county championship trophy on the line.
“We held enough composure at the end,” Skrec said. “We made enough big plays down the stretch.
“I don’t think anybody had a great game for us, but every girl it seemed made a big shot.
“We talk about that a lot – about team, about getting it done as a team.”
TPS center Brennah Cody had an interesting game for a player that fouled out, but still led her team in scoring with 15 points.
Cody did not put the ball in the basket until she made consecutive inside shots with less than two minutes to go in the first half. He first basket tied the game for the first time at 22-22, while her second gave TPS its first lead at 24-22.
After being held to just four points at the half, Cody entered the fourth quarter with 13. Her final basket was the first points of the fourth quarter as she pulled TPS within 37-36 with another inside hoop.
“She hurt us tremendously,” Skrec said.
“She’s a great player,” McQueen said. “We tried to double down on her.”
“It got to be a little frightening at times going up against her,” Hanner said. “I just had it in my head that I was going to try to grab every rebound I could.”
Cody picked up her fourth foul with 3:10 to go and RC ahead 47-43.
Cody then missed two free throws with 2:21 left and was called for her fifth and final foul with 1:52 remaining.
While Cody was still in there, teammate Quanaijah McDowell, a junior guard, stepped up and came through with three big baskets. McDowell hit a 3-pointer from the left side that tied the game for the fourth time at 39-39.
She then stole the ball and went the length of the court for a layup that made the score 41-39 TPS, which was the third Celtic lead.
A basket she made in the lane gave TPS its fourth and final lead of 43-41 midway through the fourth quarter. McDowell finished with eight points.
An inside basket by Hanner tied the game for the sixth and final time at 43-43 and then Hanner produced another inside basket to give RC its fifth advantage and the lead for good at 45-43.
“This is really a great feeling,” Hanner said. “We just played our game and came out on top.”
NOTES: Roselle Catholic’s first five UCT titles came in 2003, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014. The only time the Lions lost in the final was in 2016 to second-time champion Cranford.
TPS is now 2-1 in the final, with wins over Westfield in 2015 and 2017.
RC will next host Doane Academy Tuesday in a Non-Public, South B first round state tournament game.
TPS will host Timothy Christian Tuesday night in a first round game in the same section.
RC is the fourth seed and TPS is the sixth seed, so the only way they would meet for a fourth time this year would be in the section final.
43RD ANNUAL GIRLS’ BASKETBALL
UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AT KEAN UNIVERSITY
2-Roselle Catholic (21-4) 15 08 14 18 – 55
1-The Patrick School (20-6) 08 16 10 18 – 52
2-ROSELLE CATHOLIC LIONS (55):
1-Victoria Jacobs, senior, 2-1-1-8
3-Tyara McQueen, senior, 2-2-3-13
4-Jenissa Encarnacion, junior, 3-0-3-9
20-Nina Worthey, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
23-Kayla Haywood, sophomore, 4-0-2-10
25-Taniya Hanner, junior, 6-0-3-15
44-Princess Moise, senior, 0-0-0-0
Head coach: Joe Skrec, 22nd season
Starters: Jacobs, McQueen,
Encarnacion, Haywood, Hanner.
1-THE PATRICK SCHOOL CELTICS (52):
0-Madison Ruddy, sophomore, 0-2-0-6
1-Shadajah Thomas, senior, 0-2-0-6
2-Lashae Dwyer, freshman, 4-0-5-13
3-Aliyah Williams, junior, 0-0-0-0
4-Dana Hill, junior, 0-0-0-0
5-Quanaijah McDowell, junior, 2-1-1-8
12-Tahirah Kelly, freshman, 1-0-0-2
24-Brennah Cody, junior, 7-0-1-15
35-Faith Reddick, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
Head coach: Damel Ling, 2nd season
Starters: Ruddy, Thomas,
Dwyer, Williams, Cody.