Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
PATERSON, N.J. – Could this be the year Paterson Catholic finally takes down St. Anthony?
Based upon the Cougars impressive performance in beating Paterson Kennedy 81-64 to win their second straight Passaic County championship Saturday at Wayne Valley High School, it looks like they could beat anyone on a given night.
“I think they can beat a St. Anthony,” Kennedy coach Jim Ring said. “They have the talent that they could get there [to the Tournament of Champions]. They’re very, very good. They’re the best team we’ve played all year. Case closed. No one’s even a close second.”
Paterson Catholic and St. Anthony could potentially meet March 9 in the North Non-Public B semifinals in Jersey City. The winner would presumably meet St. Patrick, the favorite to win the Tournament of Champions.
The Cougars were inspired by a pre-game phone call from Jordan Theodore, a freshman at Seton Hall who led the Cougars to last year’s county crown, and a pre-game text message from Wayne Mack, a guard on last year’s team and the older brother of PC sophomore guard Myles Mack.
Mack scored 11 of his team-high 23 points in the third quarter, when the Cougars (23-4) outscored the Knights 21-14. Junior guard Jayon James posted his second strong county game in a row and added 21 points and 6-5 junior wing Fuquan Edwin added 20 points and 10 boards. PC’s Big Three combined for 64 points.
Trevor Clemmings, a bruising 6-6 power forward who will play football in college and holds football offers from Notre Dame, Rutgers, Duke and Maryland, came off the bench to provide a tremendous presence in the paint and grabbed six rebounds.
Even Fordham-bound wing Lance Brown, who has been out after undergoing knee surgery, chipped in by draining his only shot of the game, a 3-pointer for his team’s final points of the game.
Kennedy (21-5) was led by a game-high24 points from Shondel Stewart. Asmar Edwards added 17 points and Antoine Alexander 14. The Cougars outrebounded the much smaller Knights 30-23.
“That’s the best we played all year,” the 5-9 Mack said. “But we did it for everybody. Our school, our family, everybody.”
After Kennedy closed to within 51-46 on a basket by Zahir Young midway through the third period, Mack took the game over.
He scored nine unanswered points at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth periods to put PC up 64-46. Mack scored on a steal and a drive, on a layup and in transition.
“I just came out good in the third quarter, wanted to do anything for my team so we could win the game,” Mack said. “I just came out hard and I scored the ball.”
“Myles had a tremendous game,” PC coach Damon Wright said. “He was able to get in the lane and knock down some floaters. He was able to hit some tough shots with defenders all over him.”
When Edwin threw down a monstrous dunk to make it 70-53, the game was effectively over.
The performance was so impressive that it had to leave the Cougars feeling they can beat anybody on a given night.
“I think we can win states if we play like this, first through fourth quarters just like this,” Mack said. “Defense, boxing out, everything that we possibly could do to win the game.”
PC is the No. 3 seed in North Non-Public B and opens against No. 14 Oratory Prep on March 4. Assuming both the Cougars and the No. 2 Friars, the defending Tournament of Champions winners, take care of business in the first two rounds, they would meet again on March 9.
A year ago, the Friars handled the Cougars 84-71 in Jersey City. But this St. Anthony team is much different than last year’s. Villanova-bound wing Dominic Cheek is the only returning regular for Bob Hurley’s club.
“We’re really not defending it because we have different people trying to play,” Hurley said in an interview you can see here. “I think it will be a real challenge. Our state tournament with St. Patrick and Paterson Catholic is one of the strongest in the United States and the winner of the North has a great chance to win the whole thing.”
St. Anthony’s guards are not nearly as strong as they were last year, and so PC’s guards of Mack, James and freshman Kyle Anderson will have to pressure them and also push the tempo.
St. Anthony’s bigs — Derrick Williams, Ashton Pankey and Devon Collier — are still finding their way in Hurley’s system and the team has not played as uptempo as last year because some of the bigs aren’t quick enough.
St. Anthony has also proven vulnerable this year on its home court. Long Island Lutheran went into Jersey City and beat St. Anthony last month, giving the Friars their first home loss in six years.
If PC can push the tempo and create chances for James, Edwin and Mack in the open floor, they can pull the upset.
The key will be going into that game with enough confidence that they can get it done.
“They have to take the court against the better teams now that they’re going to possibly see, whether it’s St. Anthony on the road or St. Pat’s on a neutral setting, they have to go out there believing that they can win,” Ring said. “And if they do, they’re a very, very tough team.”
PC has now won six Passaic titles overall. The Cougars are 3-3 in finals since 2002….Kennedy leads all Passaic teams with 10 crowns. Its last came on a threepeat from 1998-2000…Edwin continues to list Seton Hall, Providence and Temple as his top three…Mack’s mother listed Seton Hall, Georgetown, Virginia Tech and Fordham…Seton Hall assistant Scott Adubato was on hand. The Pirates are recruiting Edwin and Mack…Brown says he may play in the state tournament, depending on how his knee feels. “I’m going to see how it goes,” he said. I’m going hard now with therapy three times a week, so if I feel good I’m going to go for it.”
NEW JERSEY COUNTY CHAMPS (Courtesy phillyref.com)
Hudson Coviello: St. Peter Prep
Hudson Seglio: St. Josephs (wny)
Hunterdon/Warren: Hunterdon Central
Passaic: Paterson Catholic
Shore (Monmouth/Ocean): Christian Brothers Academy
Union: St. Patrick
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.