St. Anthony’s Putting 41-Game Winning Streak on the Line Against Archrival St. Pat’s
MIDDLETOWN, N.J. — One team owns the New Jersey Tournament of Champions trophy.
Their archrival wants it.
On Saturday, reigning TOC champion St. Anthony’s — winner of 41 straight games dating to March 2015 — will put its streak on the line against The Patrick School, the No. 14 team in the nation according to USA Today and the favorite to win this year’s TOC crown. The teams will square off at 5:45 p.m. in the Dan Finn Classic at the Jersey City Armory.
“It’s a St. Pat’s- St. Anthony’s game, that’s all that needs to be said,” Patrick School (7-2) co-coach Mike Rice said Tuesday night after watching the Friars (9-0) edge out the Ranney School, 51-48, at Brookdale Community College.
St. Anthony’s coach Bob Hurley is a longtime friend of Rice. Hurley vouched for Rice when he got the Rutgers job in 2010, and then supported him after he was fired in 2013 for verbally and physically abusing his players. (For more on Rice, read my New York Times profile.)
Now the two will meet for the second second straight year on opposing sidelines. A year ago, current Eastern Kentucky freshman guard Asante Gistled St. Anthony’s to thrilling 60-56 victory before approximately 4,000 fans.
The Friars went on to complete a perfect 32-0 season and win the school’s 13th TOC title.
A year later, The Patrick School is on a mission to win the program’s sixth TOC crown, and the first since it ceased existing as St. Pat’s.
“Trying to get a TOC right now,” 6-foot-11 Kentucky-bound big man Nick Richards told me last month.
“That’s the goal, TOC,” Monmouth-bound guard Marcus McClary said in November. “We have seven seniors. I’ve been at St. Pat’s since eighth grade so TOC that’s the only goal.”
He added: “It will be a failed season if we don’t win it.”
They won’t compete for the TOC until March, and only then if they get through the loaded Non-Public B bracket that also includes St. Anthony’s, Roselle Catholic and Trenton Catholic, among others.
The Patrick School has lost twice, to Memphis East and IMG Academy, at the City of Palms Classic in December.
Still, they will enter as the favorite against a young and under-sized St. Anthony’s team.
“We’re an underdog until we get the troops on the floor that we’d like to have,” Hurley said, looking ahead to the additions of several players, including 6-2 junior guard Ithiel Horton, who will be one of his team’s top three players when he becomes eligible Monday.
The Celtics feature three players 6-9 or bigger in the 6-11 Richards, 6-9 Bul Ajang and 7-footer Buay Koka, the latter two of whom are going to Tulane.
St. Anthony’s, by contrast, utilizes 6-9 shot-blocking junior Savior Akuwovo as its main big man.
“They’re so big and talented,” Hurley said of a team with five Division 1 signees. “They have no weakness. They’re deep, they have size, they have guard play. If you take away one thing, they can exploit you somewhere else. So we’re feisty.”
Rice, meantime, respects St. Anthony’s guards, Howard-bound R.J. Cole and sophomore Alexander Rice, the son of Monmouth coach King Rice who hit the game-winning three-pointer on Tuesday against Ranney.
“They have one of the strongest backcourts in the country and one of the best coaches in the country so they’re always dangerous,” Mike Rice said. “It will depend on the loose balls and the rebounds and all the little things that it usually comes down to, so it will be a fun game Saturday afternoon.”
Both teams will then head to the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., for games on Monday. For more on that, read this.Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.