Roselle Catholic boys’ basketball to face Newark Tech in Friday night’s TOC semifinals at Monmouth University; Winners advance to Tuesday night’s final in Trenton

Senior Syracuse-bound swingman Roberson averaging 19 points, 15 rebounds, 3.5 blocks for top-seeded Lions

PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN CERRA - Roselle Catholic celbrates after capturing the program's first state championship.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN CERRA – Roselle Catholic celbrates after capturing the program’s first state championship.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN CERRA - Roselle Catholic senior Tyler Roberson grabs a rebound vs. St. Anthony.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN CERRA – Roselle Catholic senior Tyler Roberson grabs a rebound vs. St. Anthony.

Roselle Catholic has just produced – perhaps – its two biggest wins in program history.

If the Lions are to become only the third school from UnionCounty to win the Tournament of Champions and be the last team in New Jersey standing, they will need to pull off two more huge victories.

That’s the challenge the 25th annual TOC presents for a team that has won plenty of big games this year against highly-ranked opponents and also has one loss to a team – Union – it defeated twice in league play before falling to in county tournament competition when the Farmers were under .500 at 10-12.

 

25TH ANNUAL TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS

 

SEMIFINALS

Friday, March 15

At Monmouth University, West Long Branch

3-Atlantic City (30-1) vs. 2-St. Joseph’s, Metuchen (26-4), 6 p.m.

5-Newark Tech (23-9) vs. 1-Roselle Catholic (23-5), 8 p.m.

 

FINAL

Tuesday, March 19

At Sun National Bank Center, Trenton

Semifinal winners, 8 p.m.

 

Although Roselle Catholic – as the top seed – failed to garner its first Union County Tournament championship, the Lions rebounded to win the program’s first sectional title since the 1960s and then captured their first state crown.

Its last two wins over the PatrickSchool of Elizabeth in the Non-Public, South B final at Rahway and over two-time defending champion St. Anthony of Jersey City in the Non-Public, B state championship game at Toms River North’s Pine Belt Arena provided the impetus for Roselle Catholic’s selection as the TOC’s top seed.

Roselle Catholic is the 10thUnionCounty school to play in the TOC and is now one win away from becoming the fourth to reach the final. The Lions, ultimately, are seeking to become just the third team from UnionCounty – with Elizabeth the first and St. Patrick the second – to win the TOC.

“After the luncheon on Monday we went right back to practice,” sixth-year Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff said Monday night.

Roselle Catholic is now preparing to face fifth-seeded Newark Tech in Friday’s second TOC semifinal at MonmouthUniversity in West Long Branch, tipoff scheduled for 8 p.m.

Newark Tech, the Group 2 state champion and appearing in its second TOC and first since 1991, came back from a double-digit halftime deficit to oust Group 3 state champ and fourth-seeded Newark East Side 42-39 in Wednesday night’s first of two first-round games at Pine Belt Arena in TomsRiver.

Third-seeded Atlantic City, which repeated as Group 4 state champions for the first time, came back in the fourth quarter to force overtime and then outlasted Group 1 state champ and sixth-seeded Point Pleasant Beach 80-73 in double overtime in Wednesday’s nightcap.

If Wednesday night’s first-round games are any indication, there’s nothing certain for Friday night’s semifinals.

“This is another opportunity to win a championship and the one that comes at the very end of the season,” Boff said. “We understand every team is a state champion for a reason.

“It’s going to take us two very good games to win this.”

Roselle Catholic, sparked by the play of Syracuse-bound senior swingman Tyler Roberson, fellow standout senior guard Hakim Saintil, sophomore Malachi Richardson and freshmen Asante Gist and Matt Bullock, has won six straight for the second time this season – the Lions began 6-0 before their first loss – and sport a 23-5 mark.

In order to win its sectional title Roselle Catholic had to defeat the PatrickSchool for the third time in three tries. The first-time Union County Conference-Watchung Division champions were decisive in a 77-61 triumph produced March 6.

The scoring was balanced, with Saintil pouring in 21, Richardson 18 and Gist and Roberson 14 each.

Senior DeAndre Bembry led the PatrickSchool, which captured the UCT title, with 22 points.

Roselle Catholic handed the Celtics three of their four losses, with the PatrickSchool finishing 24-4 and having a 12-game winning streak snapped.

“Obviously, they are a great team,” Boff said. “They only had four losses and three of them happened to be against us.”

Roselle Catholic got out to a good start with a 20-13 lead going into the second quarter. The Lions maintained that kind of advantage throughout.

“It was the kind of game we expected it to be by how hard it was played and how both teams competed,” Boff said. “We were able to make some plays down the stretch.

“Tyler fouled out with three minutes to go and with a lot of youth on the court we made a ton of defensive stops.”

As satisfying as that victory was, beating St. Anthony three days later for the program’s first state championship was even more amazing.

“In order to beat St. Anthony the kids executed our game plan about as well as they could,” Boff said.

Roselle Catholic’s 48-44 win saw the Lions ahead by eight at the half before St. Anthony won the third quarter 21-13 to knot the contest before the final eight minutes. Roselle Catholic won the all-important fourth quarter 13-9.

“If we could keep them from scoring easy baskets and keep the game at about a number we thought we could score, that’s what we tried to do,” Boff said. “St. Anthony prides itself on defense, so we know we had to hold them to a low number.”

Roselle Catholic managed to have three players score in double digits this time, with Saintil netting 14, Roberson 13 and Richardson 10. St. Anthony’s Josh Brown led all scorers with 21 points, with teammate Tarin Smith adding 11.

“The number we wanted to get to was 50,” Boff said. “We felt that if we scored that much that we would win the game. We had to constantly stress not giving them any easy baskets.”

After St. Anthony managed to tie the game going into the fourth quarter, Roselle Catholic responded in the final period during a time in the game when it could have continued to slide back.

“We were able to have an answer to every run they made,” Boff said. “We were always able to make a shot when we needed to.

“That goes to the toughness of our players. I was very proud of my guys for being able to, in those moments, rise to the occasion.”

On the night of Feb. 16 in Clark, not many would have predicted Roselle Catholic as the top seed for the TOC. That was the Saturday at Johnson High School that the Lions – who previously defeated Union by 32 points at home and then by 16 on the road in Watchung Division play – fell to the eighth-seeded Farmers by one point on a shot right before the buzzer by senior Erick Lofton-Harris. Roselle Catholic led by as much as 10 in the third quarter before Union, little by little, came back.

Since Roberson transferred from Union to Roselle Catholic in September of 2011, this was supposed to be a game that the Lions not only won, but won big.

“You never want to lose any game, especially a game as the one seed in a quarterfinal,” Boff said. “We worked for two months to win the regular season (Watchung Division) championship and by getting upset we let an opportunity to win the county tournament slip away.

“We came back the next morning and the players had a renewed focus and energy. They were determined not to allow another opportunity slip by.”

Roselle Catholic has lost to only three in-state teams – splitting with Elizabeth in Watchung Division play, Union and Gill St. Bernard’s – while Gill is the only in-state school the Lions have played that they have not defeated.

The other losses have come to Monteverde, Fla. and Walnut Hills, Ohio.

“Very few things in life that are special come easy, so it was extremely satisfying to win a state championship,” Boff said. “The difficult times we went through made it that much more special.”

Based on the schedule it played this year, Roselle Catholic was fully prepared to go up against a St. Anthony squad seeking to win a third straight state championship en route to another TOC appearance.

“We’re currently 10-2 against teams ranked in the (state’s) top 20 on the day that we played them,” Boff said. “Our schedule, without question, prepared us for the standard by which all high school programs are measured.”

You might say the pressure is back on for Roselle Catholic, since it went 3-0 vs. the PatrickSchool and then defeated St. Anthony and is now the TOC’s top seed. In facing Newark Tech, the Lions are preparing for a team that on Wednesday night was led by a 14-point, 11-rebound performance produced by senior Rakwan Kelly.

One of RC’s star-studded cast out to counter that attack will be Roberson, who is averaging 19 points, 15 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.

“Tyler has realized this year that he needs to put his stamp on every game, but not just with his point total,” Boff said. “He’s won games with his point totals, single-handidly with his rebounding numbers and even some with the way he blocked or altered shots.

“Tyler can win games for us in three areas and he’s been able to do that so far.”

NOTES:Roselle Catholic won the Watchung Division with a 9-1 record.

The Lions captured the UCC’s first Valley Division championship in 2010 and then won the Mountain Division in 2011. Last year, Roselle Catholic finished third in the Watchung Division in its first year in the division.

UnionCounty has had at least one team in 17 of the 25 TOCs. There have been two UnionCounty schools in five TOCs, including 1990, 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2007.

The only year the TOC final consisted of both teams from UnionCounty was 2006 when second-seeded St. Patrick held off fifth-seeded Linden 61-54 in East Rutherford.

 

 

 

UNION COUNTY TEAMS IN TOC:

 

1989:

Elizabeth, the second seed

Semifinal:Elizabeth 82, Eastern Regional 58

Final: St. Anthony 62, Elizabeth 55

 

1990:

Elizabeth, the top seed

Semifinal: Elizabeth 74, Snyder 46

Final: Elizabeth 65, St. Anthony 62

Hillside, the sixth seed

First round: McCorristin 76, Hillside 49

 

1991:

Elizabeth, the second seed

Semifinal: Seton Hall Prep 63, Elizabeth 50

 

1992:

Hillside, the sixth seed

First round:BurlingtonTownship 61, Hillside 44

 

1997:

Union, the third seed

First round:Union 75, Pitman 72

Semifinal: Seton Hall Prep 68, Union 47

 

1998:

St. Patrick, the top seed

Semifinal: St. Patrick 58, Long Branch 44

Final: St. Patrick 62, Seton Hall Prep 49

 

1999:

New Providence, the sixth seed

First round:Teaneck 47, New Providence 40

 

2000:

Linden, the fourth seed

First round: Mendham 61, Linden 57

St. Patrick, the second seed

Semifinal:Camden 62, St. Patrick 60

 

2003:

Roselle, the fourth seed

First round: Franklin 63, Roselle 62 (OT)

St. Patrick, the top seed

Semifinal: St. Patrick 76, Franklin 53

Final: St. Patrick 61, Camden Catholic 38

 

2005:

St. Patrick, the top seed

Semifinal: St. Patrick 76, Haddonfield 61

Final: Seton Hall Prep 63, St. Patrick 60

 

2006:

Linden, the fifth seed

First round:Linden 62, Seton Hall Prep 43

Semifinal:Linden 48, Bloomfield Tech 42

Final: St. Patrick 61, Linden 54

St. Patrick, the second seed

Semifinal: St. Patrick 73, Haddonfield 49

Final: St. Patrick 61, Linden 54

 

2007:

Linden, the top seed

Semifinal:Bloomfield Tech 59, Linden 56

St. Patrick, the second seed

Semifinal: St. Patrick 72, Seton Hall Prep 43

Final: St. Patrick 85, Bloomfield Tech 61

 

2008:

Scotch Plains, the fifth seed

First round: Immaculata 60, Scotch Plains 551

 

2009:

St. Patrick, the top seed

Semfinal: St. Patrick 66, Lenape 40

Final: St. Patrick 59, SciencePark 57

 

2011:

Plainfield, the third seed

First round:Plainfield 68, Asbury Park 35

Semifinal:Plainfield 50, St. Augustine 40

Final: St. Anthony 61, Plainfield 49

 

2012:

Plainfield, the third seed

First round: Plainfield 68, Asbury Park 53

Semifinal:Plainfield 70, St. Joseph’s, Metuchen 48

Final: St. Anthony 66, Plainfield 62

 

2013:

Roselle Catholic, the top seed

Semifinal: 5-Newark Tech vs. 1-Roselle Catholic, 8 p.m.

MonmouthUniversity, West Long Branch

 

 

UNION COUNTY STATE CHAMPIONS

IN TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS ERA (1989 to present):

Elizabeth: Group 4 in 1989, 1990, 1991

Hillside: Group 2 in 1990, 1992

Union: Group 4 in 1997

St. Patrick: Non-Public, B in 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009

New Providence: Group 1 in 1999

Linden: Group 4 in 2000, 2006, 2007

Roselle: Group 2 in 2003

Scotch Plains: Group 3 in 2008

Plainfield: Group 3 in 2011, 2012

Roselle Catholic: Non-Public, B in 2013

 

 

UNION COUNTY TOC RECORDS:

St. Patrick: (11-2), seven appearances, six finals, five championships

Plainfield: (4-2), two appearances, two finals

Elizabeth: (3-2), three appearances, two finals, one championship

Linden: (2-2), three appearances, one final

Hillside: (0-2), two appearances

Union: (1-1), one appearance

New Providence: (0-1), one appearance

Roselle: (0-1), one appearance

Scotch Plains: (0-1), one appearance

Roselle Catholic: (0-0), one appearance

 

 

UNION COUNTY TOC TOP SEEDS:

St. Patrick: 1998, 2003, 2005, 2009

Elizabeth: 1990

Linden: 2007

Roselle Catholic: 2013

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