BLAIRSTOWN, N.J. –– On Wednesday night, Blair Academy hosted St. Benedict’s in a battle for the No. 1 seed in the upcoming New Jersey State Prep A tournament.
The two teams entered the contest quite familiar with one another, possessing a unique rivalry that has brewed silently in recent years, producing some instant classic games, always with much at stake. This latest encounter was no different.
Blair prevailed, 55-53, after St. Benedict’s half-court heave fell short in the final seconds.
With the win, Blair improved to 13-2 on the season and earned the No. 1 seed in the state tournament.
The Bucs’ leading scorer Junub Char, who notched 15 points, said he felt the team “executed at a high level. With one of our main scorers injured, we had to take advantage of the game.”Blair suffered the loss of starting forward and Wyoming commit Anthony Mack, who left with an ankle injury early in the first quarter. Miami-bound center Deng Gak also suffered a slight blow to the face late in the game, but expects not to miss any time. “I think [Anthony] will be out at least a couple of weeks with a pretty high level ankle sprain,” said Coach Joe Mantegna. Mantegna was pleased with his team’s effort. “I thought we kept our turnovers low and defensive-rebounded very well,” he said. “Those were the two points of emphasis for us going into the game and I thought we weren’t out played in those two areas.”
Entering the game, the spotlight shined brightest on Char and Gak. The 6-foot-4 Char has proven to be a great addition with his crafty handles and ability to pull up and shoot from anywhere. The junior guard from Omaha, Neb., is fearless off the dribble and will be a target for many Division I coaches. Char currently holds offers from VCU and Saint Louis, but should expect to see increased attention after this season.
Villanova, Michigan, Creighton, Boston College, and Tulsa have all shown interest in Char in recent weeks. Judging by his performances, he’s a player whose stock will only rise as the season and his recruitment progresses.
“I’m looking forward to getting more action during the summer,” he said.
As for the 6-11, 210-pound Gak, he has built quite the high school campaign for himself entering the collegiate level. The senior power forward from Australia boasts rare size and quickness, giving him a clear advantage every time he steps on the floor.
Gak mentioned how pleased he has been with the team’s effort thus far, stating, “we’ve had great energy and have been playing really hard.”
At the next level, Gak will fit right in. The Canes are getting a player with a high basketball IQ and outstanding versatility.
Gak chose Jim Larrañaga and Miami in late October over Kansas and Florida.
“I just built a great relationship with Coach L and it was the school that I really saw myself best fitting in,” Gak told ZAGSBLOG.
Gak and his teammates face another stiff test on Sunday when they meet Kentucky-bound Nick Richards and The Patrick School in the Lehigh Valley Showcase.Follow Harrison on Twitter Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter And like ZAGS on Facebook