Prior to big games, Khaliq Lewis El likes to reserve a few minutes to individually meet with specific players to express what he expects from each.
It didn’t take long to figure out what the topic of discussion was between the Trenton Catholic coach and Isis Young.
With her speed on the ball, slick moves through traffic, awareness of teammates and delicate English she applies on her layups, Young was implored to scrap any thoughts of perimeter exploration and to play direct with the intention to assault the basket like she had a personal vendetta against it.
The sophomore guard carried out her mission in a calculated fashion to ignite an offense that got an added boost from an unlikely source as second-seeded Trenton Catholic, No. 9 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, registered a 63-46 victory over top-seeded Hopewell Valley to secure its third straight Mercer County Tournament title on Thursday at Mercer County Community College.
“Whenever we get in games like this, where there’s pressure, I like to get their head right and get them in the right direction,” Lewis El said. “I told Isis ‘I want you attacking the basket and making things happen.’ She did.”
Young repeatedly found seams within Hopewell’s 2-3 zone and once she got inside, her options were vast as her 22 points and five assists will attest. She finished three straight drives herself before slipping a dish to Tyler Rasor on the blocks to spark Trenton Catholic (21-4), which spaced the floor to create paths to the basket, to a 10-9 lead in the first quarter.
“I just try to make plays,” said Young. “Whether I score or have an assist, it’s the same two or three points going on the board. One of the things we talked about before the game was using our speed and athleticism to our advantage. The court was bigger so spacing it out and making sure they stretch was important.”
During 10-0 run in the second quarter, Young threw a nifty hesitation move that she completed with a layup to go with a feed to senior forward Kelechi Okpara as Trenton Catholic’s advantage grew to 25-14.
Okpara exhibited the cerebral aspects of her basketball game that mirror how she excels in the classroom, where she is ranked No. 1 in the senior class according to Lewis El. She recognized when to drift away from the blocks to create ample room for Young to fill off the dribble and when to stand firm in anticipation of receiving a quick pass in the low post.
Inserted into the lineup in the second quarter, Okpara instantly got involved. How well she read the situation from possession to possession enabled her to contribute a career-high 12 points to go with eight rebounds.
“I came in to rebound and do whatever I could to help our team,” Okpara said. “I’m not the scorer. On offense, I’m usually the fifth option. But, I just went in to do my best and got some points off rebounds and second-chance shots. I was bouncing out to create a lane and then coming back in to get rebounds.”
Kelly Williams, who topped Hopewell Valley (23-2) with 16 points, followed up a runner from teammate Emily Sing with one of her four 3-pointers to close the gap to 25-19. However, a desperation heave by Young from just inside midcourt found the bottom of the net in front of the halftime buzzer to send TCA into intermission with a 30-21 lead. A more traditional jumper from behind the arc by Young with 6:40 left in the third gave the Lady Mikes their largest cushion to that point at 35-23.
Hopewell narrowed the deficit to 45-40 before Trenton Catholic went on a 14-0 run driven by five different scoring resources, including Okpara, who netted six in the surge. Marquasia Aiken ended the outburst with a baseline pull-up that gave TCA a 59-40 cushion midway through the final period.
Senior swing Robin Perkins netted 10 of her 16 points in the second half for Trenton Catholic while Dominique Ward cleared 13 rebounds. Hopewell Valle received 13 points and 13 rebounds from Kara Hageman.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @GreggLerner