There isn't anyone named Jekyll or Hyde on the Seton Hall Prep roster, though that capricious character with the dual personality did seem to play a role in the Pirates offense in the opening half.
Hyde reared his nasty head in those first 16 minutes by committing 12 turnovers, but Jekyll made everything right by shooting a sizzling 63 percent from the floor to send the Prep to a six-point lead.
Junior guard Spencer Weisz scored 12 of his 20 points in that key opening half and senior guard Dallas Anglin contributed 10 of his 12 as top-seeded Seton Hall Prep, No. 7 in The MSG Varsity Top 15, overcame those turnover woes en route to a 61-48 win over fourth-seeded Columbia in the Essex County Tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon at West Orange High.
Seton Hall (21-2) will defend its title and seek its 14th championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at Essex County College, Newark, against seventh-seeded University, which advanced with an upset over third-seeded Bloomfield, 61-52.
"Columbia is a scrappy team, so we figured there were gonna be times they'd turn us over," Weisz said. "But we did a pretty good job of making shots and we did a better job of protecting the ball in the second half. That really allowed our offense to go and that's how we gained a bigger lead."
The Prep knocked down 12 of 19 field goal attempts in the first half while Columbia (17-5) struggled to find its range, hitting 10 of 31. Seton Hall wasn't quite as torrid in the second half (9 of 25), but committed only four turnovers and got a scoring boost from a surprising source.
Junior forward Tom Lacey tossed in a season-high 11 points, all in that second half, and also collected five rebounds, one assist and a steal. Weisz closed with a team-high 12 rebounds and Mosley chipped in with 10 boards. Senior forward Maxim Michel was high man for Columbia with 12 points.
"Lately, we haven't been caring who the points come from and that's why we played well," Anglin said. "Our big men stepped up today and we just played like a team and played Prep basketball."
The 6-6 Mosley and the 6-7 Lacey were bound to create problems for Columbia as long as the guards managed to break the Cougars' pressure and set up the offense. Columbia was shorthanded inside without 6-5 Evans Osuji (injured), so was forced to rely upon turnovers and transition off those mistakes.
"Tom is definitely an energy guy. It's great to have him," Weisz said of Lacey. "He came up clutch in the second half, a couple tip-ins, a nice hook shot. That's what we need from him."
Seton Hall needed some things from Weisz in that spotty first half, and the versatile junior was glad to oblige.
The 6-4 Weisz took advantage of a mismatch to score off a post feed and trigger a 7-0 run that ended the first half for a 32-26 Prep lead. He followed that bucket with a layup off a scored a feed from Kelly Willoughby for a 29-26 lead and Mosley closed out the half with a 3-pointer from the right wing.
Weisz and Mosley each scored four points in the first 4:50 of the third quarter to raise Seton Hall's lead to 40-29, and then Lacey took over. He scored his team's final five points of the period and highlighted the fourth quarter with a dunk off a pass by Weisz for a 49-39 advantage with 6:13 to play.
This was a more balanced, assertive Prep team than the one that was almost stunned by Newark Vocational in the quarterfinals last Saturday (56-55) and fell to Newark East Side in a regular-season game three days later.
"We were having a bad two weeks before that East Side game," Anglin said. "We were winning, but we weren't playing good basketball. That kind of woke us up.
"Irvington did the same thing to us this time last year. They humbled us and that got us ready for the championship."
Seton Hall had already used that deflating East Side loss as motivation, defeating Irvington, 47-38, on Thursday. The Prep had built a nine-point halftime lead and realized the same kind of scoring balance it displayed against Columbia.
"I think that loss was the best thing to happen to us," Weisz said. "We were playing horrible as a team; individually, it just wasn't clicking. We knew we could play as a team again like we did earlier in the season. We knew we had to play that way today to win."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS