Roselle Catholic upends St. Pat's in semis
St. Patrick had moderate success playing an uptempo game in the first half, though it was a pace dictated much more by need than by want.
The Celtics were missing two of their top three scorers, 6-5 DeAndre Bembry and 6-4 Elijah Davis, who also happen to be two of their tallest players.
So, if it didn't pressure the ball and establish frequent breaks, St. Patrick would have been leaving 6-7 Jameel Warney and Roselle Catholic's other big men far too much time to set up shop in the paint. And the more that happened, the more St. Patrick would be at a pronounced disadvantage.
Roselle Catholic was able to slow things down with improved defensive play in the second half, and as soon as the pace settled, Warney took complete command inside.
He dropped in 12 points in the third quarter to help turn a four-point deficit into a four-point lead and finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks as third-seeded Roselle Catholic muscled its way to a 72-61 win in the semifinals of the Union County Tournament Wednesday night at Kean University in Union.
"We told them the last two days, if we make it a halfcourt game that's to our benefit," Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff said. "I think in the first half it got up and down a little bit. Once we got back it back to a halfcourt game, that's when we're at our best."
Tyler Roberson, a 6-8 junior, scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds and 6-6 senior Chris Gross and junior Hakim Saintil added 10 points to send Roselle Catholic (16-7), No. 15 in The MSG Varsity Top 15, to its first UCT championship while snapping a run of four consecutive titles for No. 11 and second-seeded St. Patrick. Jared Nickens scored 18 points and Dana Raysor had 14 for St. Patrick (14-9).
Roselle Catholic takes on top-seeded and No. 5 Plainfield for the UCT crown at 3 p.m. Saturday at Kean.
Warney, committed to Stony Brook University, played solidly on offense in the first half, sinking 13 points, but admitted that his defensive intensity was lacking in the first half when he realized Bembry (18.1 ppg.) was unable to play with a sprained ankle. Teammate Davis was battling the flu.
"That kind of made me relax," he said of Bembry's absence. "I like playing against competition and he's one of the best players in Union County. I like guarding him. Since he wasn't there, I thought we don't have to work that hard."
Warney was joined by some 1,400 fans at Harwood Arena thinking pretty much the same thing after the Lions rolled to a 16-4 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Warney had five points in the burst and junior guard Saintil, who played at St. Patrick last season, netted four points and added two steals.
St. Patrick forced a turnover with 2:30 left in the first quarter and Daniel Knight capitalized off a feed by Johnathan Williams (13 points, six assists)to trigger an 11-0 run in the last 2:24 of the period to move to within 16-15. The Celtics created four turnovers in the span and scored on each one.
"Our goal was to pressure them, try to extend the game and not let them utilize their size against us," St. Patrick head coach Chris Chavannes said. "I thought we did a good job of that in the first half. Second half, obviously we didn't do that and they exploited us inside."
That did not happen immediately, in fact St. Patrick forged a 44-34 lead in the first 2:35 on the third quarter with the help of Raysor with four points.
Warney scored underneath off a pass by Steven Bush to spark a 14-0 run that ended the period for a 48-44 lead. The Lions put together an 8-3 move to open the fourth period and give them a 56-47 lead.
"We're a better halfcourt team than St. Pat's because we just have so many options," Warney said. "We have shooters, we have slashers, we have a good point guard. It was good for us to shut them down so they couldn't run."
Senior Wes Cherry was the leader of that Roselle Catholic defense in the second half by limiting Nickens to just four of his 18 points.
"Wes Cherry did an unbelievable job," Boff said. "In my opinion, he's the best on-ball defender in the state. When he sits down in front of you, it's hard to score."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS