Before state tournament play commences and we get to see if Roselle Catholic and Elizabeth are both good and fortunate enough to capture state championships en route to the Tournament of Champions, what is the one matchup – I take it – most Union County basketball fans want to see?
Roselle Catholic vs. Elizabeth in the Union County Tournament final? Would that be the ultimate drama? The defending champs vs. the new kids on the block? Yes, I think so.
Top-seeded Roselle Catholic, this week ranked No. 2 in the state, defeated Patrick School 48-42 at home Tuesday night to improve to 20-2 and repeat as the Union County Conference’s outright Watchung Division champions, fashioning a perfect 6-0 league mark with two wins each vs. Patrick School, St. Mary’s of Elizabeth and Linden.
Second-seeded Elizabeth, this week ranked No. 5 in the state and the highest-ranked public school, also won at home Tuesday night. The Minutemen, who already clinched the UCC’s Mountain Division championship, topped division foe Union 59-31 at the Dunn Sport Center to improve to an astounding 19-0.
They are the only teams in Union County who have not lost to a team from Union County. They are your top two seeds for the 83rd annual boys’ basketball Union County Tournament – the oldest county tournament in the state.
Are we destined to get a 1-Patrick School vs. 2-Elizabeth matchup in the Feb. 23 final at Kean University? We shall see.
For the first time Roselle Catholic, also the top seed last year, is the defending champion. The Lions captured their first UCT title 12 months ago when they defeated two-time defending champion Patrick School 68-58 in the final. After then winning another state championship, RC went on to capture its third season-ending TOC crown.
“I’m proud of the way we’ve played in our league games against Patrick School, St. Mary’s and Linden,” Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff said.
Roselle Catholic and Elizabeth were not scheduled to face each other this year.
Roselle Catholic was 0-4 in the UCT final until last year, with losses in 1963, 2012, 2015 and 2016 in double overtime.
“We never hid from the fact that we still had yet to win it (the UCT),” Boff said. “We were thrilled when we won it last year and really didn’t downplay it.”
Led by Kentucky-bound senior Kahlil Whitney – team-leading 20-point average – and a cast that includes senior Josh Pierre-Louis, senior Colby Rogers, junior Richie Greaves and highly-rated junior center Cliff Omoruyi, Roselle Catholic has only come up short so far against an out-of-state opponent from Georgia and then Ranney last week, with Ranney now the No. 1 ranked school in the state.
“I like the group we have,” said Boff, whose team was 14-0 before losing to Norcross, Ga. 75-55 at Springfield College on Jan. 19.
Ranney topped RC 61-49 at Brookdale Community College last Wednesday.
“We’ve struggled at times to play for a full 32 minutes, we’ve lacked consistency at times,” Boff said. “Our focus on defense needs to be more consistent.”
Roselle Catholic’s next game is vs. Montverde, Fla. Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Kean. In last year’s matchup at Kean the Lions had a five-point lead inside of a minute to go vs. Montverde, which was undefeated at the time, but couldn’t hold it. Roselle Catholic then ran off a season-ending 12-game winning streak that culminated with the Lions winning the TOC title for the third time and first time since 2015.
“For the guys that are still here I’m sure that will be a little extra motivation,” Boff said. “What we learned from that game last year was that when you have a lead like that you have to finish.
“We had the same deficit against Ranney in the states and came back to win. We have to remember that the game is not over until the final buzzer.”
Both Roselle Catholic and Elizabeth are scheduled to play at Kean on Sunday in the Metro Classic. RC is to play 19th-ranked American History at 3 p.m., while Elizabeth is scheduled to play First Love Christian, Pa. at 6 p.m.
Elizabeth is next scheduled to play Christian Brothers Academy Saturday at 7 p.m. at Dunn in the Primetime Shootout.
Has this been a dream-come-true season so for the Minutemen, who have now won 19 games for the first time since finishing with 22 in 2012, which is the last year they reached Rutgers to play in the Group 4 final? Elizabeth won a combined 18 games the previous four seasons.
Elizabeth last won Group 4 in 1991.
“Did I think we would be 18-0 at this point? No,” Elizabeth first-year head coach Phil Colicchio said Monday night. “No way in the world.”
Colicchio’s best record at Linden was 30-3 in 2007 when the Tigers repeated as Group 4 state champions for the first time after knocking off top-seeded St. Patrick to win the UCT for the first time sinfe 2001.
“Did I think we would be below .500, no,” Colicchio said. “I thought we would have a decent record.
“Opening night (dramatic 2-point win late at home vs. Rutgers Prep) and the triple-overtime win against Union Catholic were big.
“The second time we played Union Catholic we played really well. It shows how much we’ve improved with the kids learning how to play in the system.
“The kids have bought into everything we’ve wanted to teach them. Not one kid has questioned us.
“I have never – not as a player, assistant coach or head coach – been 18-0 this late into the season.”
Win No. 19 Tuesday night vs. visiting Union saw Elizabeth senior guard Julius David make his season-debut following shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. He contributed six points.
“I’m excited for the kid,” Colicchio said. “I feel for him. He’s a senior and he’s worked so hard.
“It happened right before the season and I just felt terrible. I give him credit, he came to practice every day, went on our trips to still be part of the team and that’s not easy to do.
“I’m really cheering for this kid. Now he can enjoy some of his senior year on the court.”
David was Elizabeth’s best player in the Minutemen’s season-opener last year, which was a 67-63 single overtime victory at Union in the 3rd annual St. Jude Classic.
David scored seven of his game-high 28 points in overtime, including his game-high sixth 3-pointer which gave Elizabeth the lead for good at 59-58.
“He can play,” Colicchio said. “He can shoot the ball as well as anyone I’ve ever coached. He’s another ball-handler we have now.
“He gives us the ability to play three guards (in addition to sophomore Al-Fatir Connor and senior Brenden Kelly). You know how I like to play three guards. We now have another person to fill our rotation.”
Senior forward Jesiah West scored 18 points, grabbed 11 boards and blocked five shots vs. Union Tuesday. DJ Watkins added 15 points and Kelly 12.
Standout junior forward Jordan Price scored 13 points and hauled in 10 rebounds in Elizabeth’s 47-39 win over Cherokee in this past Saturday’s Battle By the Bay contest at Atlantic City High School.
“Every game it seems throughout this season we have a different leading scorer,” Colicchio said. “Cherokee is a very good, very well-coached team and the favorites in South Jersey to win Group 4.
“We did what we needed to do to win the game. We’re playing really well defensively.”
Elizabeth last reached the UCT final 10 years ago, falling to St. Patrick in 2009 in the last UCT championship game to be played at Dunn. The Minutemen last won the UCT 15 years ago, beating St. Patrick in the 2004 final at Dunn during the first of two stints present Columbia assistant Donald Stewart was the head coach.
Two years before that in 2002 Pat Brunner – who would go on to coach for more than 10 years at Bloomfield – guided Elizabeth to its first UCT championship following longtime successful head coach Ben Candelino’s tenure.
“Roselle Catholic earned the right to be the No. 1 seed,” Colicchio said. “We’ve earned the right to be the No. 2 seed.
“Whitney is tough and they have a heck of a guard in Pierre, to go along with their big guys. They may not be as deep as they have been before, but they are still the team to beat.
“They are well-coached, they play hard and they play together. They are the best team in the county. It will take somebody to beat them. I don’t know if they will beat themselves.”
A big turning point for Elizabeth was its second half performance at Union on Jan. 17 in an eventual 66-44 victory. The Minutemen survived a first half with little or no production at all from Kelly and West.
Price was strong for all four quarters and poured in a career-high 26 points.
Union jumped out to a 17-7 lead, only to be outscored 59-27 the rest of the way.
“That game was a real eye-opener for us,” Colicchio said. “We learned a lot about our team pertaining to other guys picking up the slack.”
Colicchio said the second win over Union Catholic – 68-47 at Union Catholic on Jan. 22 – was his team’s most complete game.
“Our game against Pleasantville (Elizabeth won 71-57 on the road Jan. 12), we grabbed right in the beginning,” Colicchio said. “They were very physical and they were as talented as anyone we have played so far this year.”
Colicchio guided Linden to UCT titles in 2001, 2007 and 2015. Back in the 1990s he guided several Elizabeth JV squads to county tournament championships.
“I’m not big on predictions, but I think this is one year that somebody can get upset in the quarterfinals,” Colicchio said. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given night.
“It could make for an exciting tournament, like it always is. This is the best county tournament in the state and maybe one of the best in the country.”
Not only is Elizabeth winning, but the Minutemen are winning big. Fourteen of their victories so far have come by double digits, including last week’s 62-51 triumph at home over Patrick School.
“We have to play tough against a really tough team and if we do we’ll get another win is what I try to tell the kids before each game,” Colicchio said. “I think we woke a lot of people up when we beat St. Pat’s.
“Defensively, we’re playing the same way I’ve emphasized it for 30 years. We also have a little bit of an edge inside (West, Price and 6-6 senior center Abdul Shanunu off the bench). “We did a really good job on (senior Clemson-bound guard Al-Amir) Dawes. We held him to just two points in the first half.
“A big part of that game was getting our players to believe that we could beat St Pat’s. That’s the most emotion my team has showed this year. Players like West and Price, who were in the program before this year, are beginning to realize what’s going on.”
Elizabeth’s Coalition to House the Homeless game vs. St. Mary’s, Elizabeth on Jan. 19 was snowed out. No makeup date has been set.
FRIDAY, FEB. 8; SATURDAY, FEB. 9 AND SUNDAY, FEB. 10: First round – a total of eight games at the higher seeds after preliminary round games consisting of 22-Roselle at 19-Hillside and 21-Brearley at 20-Koinonia are completed.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 13: Second round – four games at the higher seeds.
SATURDAY, FEB. 16: Quarterfinals – two doubleheaders at neutral sites, times and places to be determined.
TUESDAY, FEB. 19: Semifinals – at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Kean University
SATURDAY, FEB. 23: Final – at 6 p.m. at Kean University.
83RD ANNUAL BOYS’ BASKETBALL
UNION COUNTY TOURNAMENT
SEEDS: 1-Roselle Catholic. 2-Elizabeth. 3-Patrick School. 4-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth.
5-Union Catholic. 6-Linden. 7-Union. 8-New Providence.
9-Plainfield. 10-Rahway. 11-Summit. 12-Westfield.
13-Scotch Plains. 14-Gov. Livingston. 15-Cranford. 16-Johnson.
17-Oratory Prep. 18-Dayton. 19-Hillside. 20-Koinonia.
22-Roselle at 19-Hillside
21-Brearley at 20-Koinonia
Koinonia-Brearley winner at 5-Union Catholic
Hillside-Roselle winner at 6-Linden
18-Dayton at 7-Union
17-Oratory Prep at 8-New Providence
16-Johnson at 9-Plainfield
15-Cranford at 10-Rahway
14-Gov. Livingston at 11-Summit
13-Scotch Plains at 12-Westfield
Wednesday, Feb 13
Four games at the higher seeds.
Saturday, Feb. 16
Two twinbills, sites and times TBA
1-Roselle Catholic, 2-Elizabeth,
3-Patrick School, 4-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth
receive byes into the quarterfinals.
Tuesday, Feb. 19
At Kean University
6 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 23
At Kean University, 7:30 p.m.
FRANK J. CICARELL UCT BOYS’ BASKETBALL
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SCORES, WINNING COACHES:
2018: Roselle Catholic 68, Patrick School 58 – Dave Boff – Kean
2017: Patrick School 58, Linden 44 – Chris Chevannes – Kean
2016: Patrick School 58, Roselle Catholic 54 (2OT) – Mike Rice – Kean
2015: Linden 60, Roselle Catholic 56 – Phil Colicchio – at Kean
2014: Patrick School 62, Linden 54 – Chris Chevannes – at Kean
2013: Patrick School 44, Linden 42 – Chris Chevannes – at Kean
2012: Plainfield 72, Roselle Catholic 66 – Jeff Lubreski – at Kean
2011: St. Patrick 70, Linden 58 – Kevin Boyle – at Kean
2010: St. Patrick 82, Plainfield 45 – Kevin Boyle – at Kean
2009: St. Patrick 89, Elizabeth 72 – Kevin Boyle – last one at Dunn
2008: St. Patrick 67, Linden 56 – Kevin Boyle
2007: Linden 63, St. Patrick 51 – Phil Colicchio
2006: St. Patrick 65, Plainfield 52 – Kevin Boyle
2005: St. Patrick 77, Linden 68 – Kevin Boyle
2004: Elizabeth 58, St. Patrick 51 – Donald Stewart
2003: St. Patrick 68, Linden 62 – Kevin Boyle
2002: Elizabeth 75, St. Patrick 61 – Pat Brunner
2001: Linden 76, St. Patrick 59 – Phil Colicchio
2000: St. Patrick 69, Linden 55 – Kevin Boyle
1999: St. Patrick 52, Union 43 – Kevin Boyle
1998: St. Patrick 76, Union 45 – Kevin Boyle
1997: St. Patrick 61, Elizabeth 48 – Kevin Boyle
1996: St. Patrick 65, Elizabeth 47 – Kevin Boyle
1995: Elizabeth 50, St. Patrick 49 – Ben Candelino
1994: St. Patrick 63, Hillside 47 – Kevin Boyle
1993: St. Patrick 45, Elizabeth 41 – Kevin Boyle
1992: Elizabeth 69, Linden 57 – Ben Candelino
1991: Elizabeth 76, Linden 49 – Ben Candelino
1990: Elizabeth 96, Roselle 67 – Ben Candelino
1989: Elizabeth 65, Roselle 57 – Ben Candelino
1988: Linden 50, Elizabeth 45 – Wilbur Aikens
1987: Elizabeth 62, Linden 61 – Ben Candelino
1986: Elizabeth 50, Union Catholic 43 – Ben Candelino
1985: Elizabeth 70, Rahway 56 – Ben Candelino
1984: Elizabeth 57, Plainfield 42 – Ben Candelino
1983: Linden 66, Roselle 60 – Wilbur Aikens
1982: Linden 86, Union Catholic 67 – Wilbur Aikens
1981: Johnson Regional 73, Hillside 61 – Steve Petruzzelli
1980: Union 65, Plainfield 63 – Tom Fox
1979: Plainfield 70, Linden 68 – Rico Parenti
1978: Elizabeth 62, Plainfield 60 – Ron Kelly
1977: Roselle 75, Rahway 54 – Dick Young
1976: Roselle 61, Union 54 – Dick Young
1975: Plainfield 69, Rahway 64 – Rico Parenti
1974: Union 61, Cranford 48 – Tom Fox
1973: Linden 69, Roselle 53 – Wayman Everly
1972: Jefferson 50, Linden 43 – Ron Kelly
1971: Roselle 73, Linden 71 – Dick Young
1970: Jefferson 68, St. Mary’s 61 – Ron Kelly
1969: Jefferson 55, St. Mary’s 47 – Ron Kelly
1968: Linden 63, Jefferson 62 – Joe Gaines
1967: St. Patrick 58, Plainfield 50 – Ed “Buzzy” Fox
1966: Linden 61, St. Patrick 56 – Joe Gaines
1965: Westfield 61, Cranford 52 – Bob Sanislow
1964: Cranford 68, Linden 61 – Bill Martin
1963: Westfield 65, Roselle Catholic 45 – John Lay
1962: St. Mary’s 40, Linden 30 – Al LoBalbo
1961: Roselle 45, St. Mary’s 43 – Ralph Arminio
1960: St. Mary’s 53, Jefferson 43 – Al LoBalbo
1959: Westfield 54, Cranford 46 – John Lay
1958: Roselle 66, Cranford 64 – Ralph Arminio
1957: Rahway 64, Jefferson 51 – Bob Berger
1956: Plainfield 58, Sacred Heart 51 – Bill Brann
1955: Jefferson 52, St. Mary’s 44 – Bill Tranavitch
1954: Jefferson 57, Springfield 44 – Bill Tranavitch
1953: Linden 59, Union 38 – G. St. Andrassy
1952: St. Mary’s 48, Linden 30 – Al LoBalbo
1951: St. Mary’s 37, Jefferson 36 – Al LoBalbo
1950: Jefferson 69, Hillside 57 – Bill Tranavitch
1949: Jefferson 42, Hillside 41 – Bob Cox
1948: Jefferson 33, Springfield 32 – Bob Cox
1947: Springfield 31, Linden 29 – Walter Hohn
1946: Springfield 37, Linden 34 – Walter Hohn
1945: Jefferson 39, Roselle Park 23 – Abner West
1944: St. Patrick 40, Roselle Park 36 – Ken Milsop
1943: Rahway 34, Jefferson 33 – Earl Walter
1942: Rahway 46, Jefferson 30 – Earl Walter
1941: Rahway 32, Hillside 24 – Earl Walter
1940: Springfield 35, Cranford 33 – Bill Brown
1939: Linden 30, Plainfield 20 – Les Goodwin
1938: Springfield 25, Rahway 24 – Bill Brown
1937: Rahway 27, Hillside 17 – Earl Walter
St. Patrick-Patrick School 20
St. Mary’s, Elizabeth 4
Roselle Catholic 1
Johnson Regional 1