It’s a fact that might have been overlooked in local circles, but cannot be ignored here.
This has been a sensational season for the Hudson County teams in the NJSIAA state playoffs.
Think about it.
We had two teams win state sectional titles, namely St. Anthony in Non-Public B North, courtesy of the Friars’ big 57-42 win over Hudson Catholic Wednesday night in Piscataway, and St. Peter’s Prep in Non-Public A North, thanks to the Marauders’ 63-57 win over Seton Hall Prep.
We had four others play for sectional titles and come up just a little short.
In boys’ basketball, there was Hudson Catholic, which lost to St. Anthony in the battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the entire state, and Snyder, which went all the way to the North Jersey Section 2, Group II finale before falling to Newark Tech by a single point, 55-54.
In girls’ basketball, there were the two combatants in the Hudson County Tournament final that went all the way to their respective sectional title games before losing.
In North Jersey Section 2, Group I, Secaucus was a game foe, heading all the way to the title game before falling to Bloomfield Tech, 39-35, capping a brilliant 27-3 season for coach John Sterling and the young Patriots, who lose very little to graduation from this team that finished second in the county and second in the state sectional.
And then there was Lincoln, which went all the way to the North Jersey Section 2, Group II finale, before running into a buzz saw named Shabazz, the perennial state favorite. Coach Tommy Best’s team finished 28-2, winning the Hudson County Tournament crown for a second straight year and going to the sectional finals for a second time.
That’s a remarkable run for the local teams – and the season isn’t over yet for two of them, namely the Marauders of Prep, who will shoot for the school’s first overall state crown since 1962 when they face St. Joseph of Metuchen in Toms River over the weekend, and the fabulous Friars, who will face Roselle Catholic for the overall Non-Public B title, as the Friars go for their state-record 28th state championship.
Speaking of the Friars, they have compiled some of the most amazing defensive numbers recorded by any high school team since the peach-basket era.
It’s totally unfathomable the scoring totals that St. Anthony opponents have registered this season.
Only once has the Friars allowed 50 points in a game this season. That was to Central Catholic of Massachusetts in a Christmas tournament in Boston.
Of course, the Friars have lost only once this season to St. Benedict’s Prep, 47-38. The Friars have won 92 of their last 93 games over the last three years.
Some of the point totals that the Friars have allowed this season are beyond belief.
Twice this season, the Friars allowed 15 points in a game. That’s no misprint. Fifteen! Like in seven baskets and a free throw. The two unfortunate souls were Newark East Side and Mainland Regional, two very good programs.
The Friars surrendered 20 against Bishop Eustace, 22 against Columbia, 23 against Camden, 25 against Christian Brothers Academy, 28 against Neptune, 28 against Boys and Girls High of New York and 31 against Curtis of New York. Those are all excellent basketball programs, all held to offensive totals regularly registered when Dr. Naismith invented the game.
Over the course of their 29 games this season, 28 of which are wins, the Friars allowed an average of 31.1 points per game.
Now that’s playing defense.
Still, after holding Hawthorne Christian to just 24 points in the sectional semifinal last Monday, legendary Hall of Fame head coach Bob Hurley wasn’t ready to sing the team’s praises.
“We’re just not good,” Hurley said very seriously. “We’re not a really good team. We’re so bad on the other end. I’d rather be a better offensive team than to have to hold the others to what we’re doing. The defense gives us a chance to win. This is not football. We have to be good on the offensive side then play defense. We don’t transition well. We’re not smooth on the other end. We’re grinding out wins. It’s who we are.”
It’s hard to fathom any coach saying that after winning a game by 44 points.
But maybe Hurley is trying to compare this year’s team against other great teams in the past. Does this team compare to some of Hurley’s others, like even the teams of the last two years? Of course not. Kyle Anderson is in UCLA. Myles Mack is at Rutgers. You can’t compare this year to those teams. Or any other, for that matter.
But this team has won 28 games for a reason – and the answer is in the numbers.
Hudson Catholic head coach Nick Mariniello, who unfortunately lost to Hurley and the Friars in the state playoffs for the third straight season, second time in the sectional title game, knows for sure how good the Friars are.
“I think Coach Hurley knows how good his team is,” Mariniello said. “Maybe he is comparing this team to other teams he’s had in the past. Our kids know what they’re up against. For me, it was a chance to go up against a legendary coach and a legendary program. Being in this game sums up what we’ve done over the last four years. We didn’t need any external messages to make this game more important than what it was.”
The Hawks managed to score 42 points against the Friars Wednesday night - and none of those points came easy.
One thing is for sure. Monday’s games in the area brought out the celebrities. At the Hudson Catholic semifinal against Montclair Kimberley Academy, former NBA standout Mike O’Koren was present, like he was at many Hawk games this year. So was former New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey.
At the St. Anthony game, former Friars and NBA players Tyshawn Taylor (currently with the Brooklyn Nets) and Roshown McLeod were there, as was former New York Knick standout Charles Smith, whose son currently plays for the Friars.
There was a lot of excitement in several different local gyms last week, a testament to how well the Hudson County teams performed this season in the NJSIAA state tournament. It was the best outing in recent memory, something to be proud of for sure.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.