Linden boys basketball team reaches section finals

LINDEN, NJ — The Linden High School boys basketball team had finishing second down pat.

Last year, the Tigers finished second in the North 2, Group 4 playoffs, falling to visiting Elizabeth High School in the championship game.

This year, Linden placed second in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division at 8-2, also finishing second to Elizabeth by one game.

Then, after beating Elizabeth in the semifinals, following two division losses to the Minutemen, Linden fell to Roselle Catholic High School in last month’s Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University.

When Linden hosted East Side High School in the North 2, Group 4 championship game on Tuesday, Feb. 28, or Wednesday, March 1, depending on the anticipated snowfall on Monday, Feb. 27, the Tigers were seeking to break a streak of finishing second.
Linden, the second seed, entered with a record of 23-6 that included sectional wins at home against Piscataway, Franklin and Hillsborough high schools.

East Side, the eighth seed with a record of 17-12, defeated Bayonne High School at home, top-seeded Ridge High School on the road and then Westfield High School away to advance to its fifth North 2, Group 4 final since 2016 and its first in three years.

East Side last won the section in 2019 and Linden in 2017. This was the second time that fifth-year head coach Anthony Drejaj has guided the Linden Tigers to the sectional final. Drejaj was an assistant coach when Linden last won North 2, Group 4 in 2016 and 2017.

The group semifinals are scheduled for Thursday, March 2, at a neutral site. The group finals are scheduled for Sunday, March 5, at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway.

Linden’s main cast of characters includes junior forward Elijah Butler, freshman forward Jekhi Burnam, senior guard Jaylan Hodge, senior guard Elijah Motley, junior forward Hashim Nadir and junior guard Nas Robinson.

As of Monday, Robinson led in points with 430, Nadir in rebounds with 143 and Motley in steals with 47.

East Side was led by junior guard Amir Abdullah, sophomore forward David Ekhelar, senior guard Sutan Fitzpatrick, senior guard Khasheem Walton, senior guard Nasir Wheeler and senior forward Quatrell Wilson.

Fitzpatrick began the week leading the team in scoring with 154 points. Wilson led in rebounds with 141 and Fitzpatrick also led in steals with 61.

In Linden’s 47-32 win against visiting Hillsborough, the third seed, on Saturday, Feb. 25, Burnam paced the Tigers with 15 points, while teammate Butler contributed 10. Nadir was Linden’s leading rebounder with a whopping 16. Linden led 13-5 after the first quarter and never looked back.

2022-2023 North 2, Group 4 boys basketball


1-Ridge. 2-Linden. 3-Hillsborough. 4-Elizabeth. 5-Westfield. 6-Columbia. 7-Franklin. 8-East Side. 9-Bayonne. 10-Irvington. 11-Phillipsburg. 12-Watchung Hills. 13-Scotch Plains-Fanwood. 14-J.P. Stevens. 15-Piscataway. 16-Woodbridge.

First round
Tuesday, Feb. 21

Ridge 74, Woodbridge 53 – at Ridge
East Side 56, Bayonne 39 – at East Side
Westfield 56, Watchung Hills 50 – at Westfield
Scotch Plains-Fanwood 65, Elizabeth 55 – at Elizabeth
Hillsborough 53, J.P. Stevens 46 – at Hillsborough
Columbia 65, Phillipsburg 54 – at Columbia
Franklin 74, Irvington 65 – at Franklin
Linden 53, Piscataway 41 – at Linden

Thursday, Feb. 23

East Side 49, Ridge 43 – at Ridge
Westfield 59, Scotch Plains-Fanwood 56 – at Westfield
Hillsborough 48, Columbia 41 – at Hillsborough
Linden 49, Franklin 43 – at Linden

Saturday, Feb. 25

East Side 63, Westfield 44 – at Westfield
Linden 47, Hillsborough 32 – at Linden

Tuesday, Feb. 28 or Wednesday, March 1

8-Newark East Side at 2-Linden
Defending champion: Elizabeth

Last six champions

2016: Linden over East Side at Linden
2017: Linden over East Side at Linden
2018: East Side over Linden at East Side
2019: East Side over Elizabeth at Elizabeth
2020: Elizabeth over Watchung Hills at Watchung Hills
2021: No game, COVID-19 pandemic
2022: Elizabeth over Linden at Linden