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.
Kentucky-Bound Towns, St. Joe’s Defeat Linden, Set to Face Newark East Side for TOC Title
By JOHN PAVIA
Special to ZAGSBLOGWEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. — For Karl-Anthony Towns and his St. Joe’s-Metuchen team, redemption is just one win away after a thrilling 63-59 victory over Linden in the New Jersey Tournament of Champions semifinals Thursday at Monmouth University.
After losing in the TOC final to Roselle Catholic last year, they now have another shot at a state championship on Monday when they will meet Newark East Side at Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton at 8 p.m.
Towns, a 7-foot 2014 Kentucky commit, led his team with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but it was the resolve of his teammates down the stretch that has them playing for the crown. Towns had fouled out of the game with about five minutes to go and watched from the bench as Linden erased an 18-point deficit in the closing minutes.
Group 4 champ Linden was led by Cincinnati-bound Quadri Moore, who finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, and Otis Livingston who had 16 points. They also had help from Joshua Carter, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half and Juwan Dolbrice who also had 11 points.
With Towns out of the game, Linden began to frequently attack the rim and paint, but due to some heady play by Vanderbilt signee Wade Baldwin, Marques Townes and Breein Tyree, St. Joe’s was able to hold off Linden for a spot in the TOC final. Baldwin and Townes finished with 15 points each and Tyree had 11 points.
“When Karl [Towns] fouled out in the fourth quarter with like five minutes left, I knew that as a team we could hold this lead,” Townes said. “I think we were up about 13 points when he had gone out. Linden, they pride themselves on defensive stops and I think number one [Juwan Dolbrice] hit about two 3’s that put them up. There was probably like two minutes or one minute left, we had a couple turnovers and then it came down to a foul shooting game. Just came out to be who hit free throws.”
While St. Joseph’s only shot 14-25 from the foul line, they made enough down the stretch to give them the victory. Linden also shot poorly from the charity stripe, making just 12 of 22 attempts.
Baldwin spoke after the game about how tough it was for his team to withstand Linden’s pressure without Towns for the final five minutes.
“You know, it was very difficult,” he said. “Especially with a McDonald’s All-American not on the court with us, but that’s not to be excused with the rest of the talent that we have. I mean, we have four Division I players on the court. We let them come back from 15, 16, whatever it was and that was just a lack of guard play I thought. It’s kind of embarrassing. I mean, we won the game, but I know we’re not as happy as we need to be. We wanted to go into this game, winning by 20 and make a statement, especially in the TOC’s. I mean, we got the job done. I’m happy for the team, but you know, I want it to be better.”
Towns also spoke about his unwavering support of his teammates after he had fouled out of the game.
“We just knew how to deal with it,” he said. “My teammates especially, I mean, we have four Division I athletes on the court so I wasn’t worried about the lead going away. I just wanted us to play the way we knew how to play. We did a great job. My teammates did an absolutely fabulous job holding onto the game and getting us a win.”
Towns also discussed his high profile matchup with Moore as the two guarded each other basically to a stalemate.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “A lot of times for me, I don’t get to guard the best player on the other team because it hasn’t been a center or forward so today I’m glad I got to play against their best player. I thought we did a great job playing as a team against him. Linden’s a great team, they hit some threes on us, but we did a great job of really playing defense. Making sure the ball didn’t go through him and making their guards have to try and win the game. Playing against Quadri just felt like playing against him at AAU practice. We get to go one-on-one and get to have fun. I had a lot of fun tonight. It didn’t really feel like a TOC final, it just felt like we were going out there to have fun.”
With Kentucky playing their first game of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Towns offered his take on how they will do.
“You know, I’ve got them going pretty far,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have a young team, but I’ve seen them develop so much in recent games so I see them going far. If they just keep playing the way they’re playing, you know, making those extra passes, they’re such a deadly team and that’s why they were ranked number one in the preseason. So if they keep doing those extra passes like we learned, especially at St. Joe’s, then they’ll go pretty deep.”
EAST SIDE DOWNS DEFENDING CHAMP ROSELLE CATHOLICIn a game that went down to the wire, Newark East Side came out of the scrap with defending TOC champ Roselle Catholic as the winner, 46-45.
Newark East Side, which now stands at 30-1 for the season, was led by Akbar Hoffman with 13 points and Seton Hall commit Ismael Sanogo with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Sanogo was fouled with 1.6 seconds left in the game with the score tied at 45. He calmly stepped up and knocked down the first foul shot which proved to be the difference as Matt Bullock‘s last second heave was off the mark for Roselle Catholic.
East Side also did a tremendous job limiting a Roselle Catholic team featuring two very talented guards in Isaiah Briscoe and Asante Gist, as well as high-major recruit Chris Silva, to only 45 points after they had scored 98 on Newark Tech in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Gist finished with 13 points while Briscoe scored just six points, but did grab 10 rebounds and dish out several assists. Bullock also added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Sanogo spoke about his friendship with Briscoe and how he’d love for him to come to Seton Hall
“We’re friends off the court,” he said. “On the court, I wouldn’t say we’re friends. I’m not recruiting him, but if he did it would be great for the program. I would like for him to come, but if he doesn’t we’ll still be a good team as well.”
Photos: Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger Follow John on Twitter
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.