Expectations were undeniably high for Seton Hall Prep in this Essex County Tournament final, entering as the defending champion, top seed and with two victories already this season against seventh-seeded University.
If all that happened to place any unusual pressure on the Pirates, they weren't about to let it seep into their game. On this Saturday--like so many previous late February Saturdays for this program--expectations were matched almost perfectly by performance.
Seton Hall, No. 9 in The MSG Varsity Top 15, opened the game with consecutive baskets by Dallas Anglin and Spencer Weisz and used that promising start as the blueprint for a 67-47 victory at Essex County College in Newark.
Anglin scored 19 points to pace four Pirates in double figures, Stephon Mosley collected 17 points and 13 rebounds and Weisz scored 15 points and had six assists to guide Seton Hall (23-2) to its second consecutive ECT crown and 14th overall in the event's 66 years.
This performance was clean and efficient and smart, which are qualities often associated with the Prep's past championship squads. Big difference here, though, was the man conducting the operation.
Kevin Williams earned his first county crown in his inaugural season as Prep head coach. He replaced Bob Farrell, who retired last March with 10 ECT titles to his credit.
"This was Coach's first trip. We were nervous, he was nervous, but he came with a great game plan today and we saw it through," Anglin said. "It was really a great team effort today."
The key, Williams had emphasized, was for his club to utilize its size advantage immediately, limit shots by University and build an early lead. Hard-nosed University (14-11) improved its play as the game wore on in each of the previous two losses to the Prep. Williams, anticipating a similar surge, badly wanted early separation.
Seton Hall jumped to a 13-6 lead in the first 5:23 behind seven points from Anglin, and stretched that to 33-8 by the half after an almost surgical second quarter led by Weisz' eight points and seven more by Anglin. The Prep sank seven consecutive field goals at one point and was 7 of 10 for the period.
"The early lead was huge," Anglin said. "When you play a Newark team in the county championship, it's like Seton Hall Prep against Newark, and their crowd was really into it. We took the crowd out early and that was big part of it."
Big was an operable word pertaining to Seton Hall's strong start, with the 6-6 Mosley, 6-7 Tom Lacey and the 6-5 Weisz in the starting lineup and 6-6 Nadir Jackson and 6-7 Elijah Brown coming off the bench to provide help underneath. University has only one player, Kendall Henry, who stands a shade over 6-3.
"We knew we had a size advantage over them, so we just wanted to play hard, play defense and rebound," Mosley said. "That was our key. We worked hard on our help-side defense. They're smaller, so they probably couldn't shoot over us. We just kept our hands up and tried to limit their shots."
Seton Hall did, holding University to just four offensive rebounds, none of which resulted in a direct putback. The Prep, on the other hand, was scoring in bunches off its defensive boards.
"Coach preached defensive rebounds because a lot of their guards like to penetrate," Weisz said. "If they don’t make the first shot, they like to go after it and try to make the second. So, containing them to just one shot a possession allowed us to get easy runouts and they weren't able to get what they wanted."
Anglin and Weisz each buried two 3-pointers in the first half and Jackson added one, and they were all open shots, Weisz said, because of the attention University was forced to extend to Mosley and the other big men. And as soon as the focus shifted to those hot shooters, they began to dump the ball into the paint.
Mosley scored eight points in the third quarter and three of those baskets came off feeds to the block. That was a development that University simply could not answer as it watched its deficit swell to 50-29 with just over a minute left in the quarter.
"We've been working on establishing that inside game," Williams said. " Early in the year we were kind of infatuated with the 3-point shot. Lately, we've been really limiting the number of 3-point shots we take. The guards are getting penetration and looking to pass now. That’s opening things up for our big guys underneath. And if they stay on Steph when they drive, they can just pull up."
Senior guard Zahki Davis played an exceptional floor game for Seton Hall with 10 points and seven assists. Eight of those points came in the second half, after he had set an unselfish tone in the first with four assists.
"It really was a whole team effort," Anglin said. "Everyone stepped up today and that's how you want to do it in the ship."
Junior guard Elijah Brown scored 15 points and senior guards Keith Foster and Morgan Dixon had nine and eight, respectively, for University, making its third championship appearance in four years. The Phoenix won back-to-back titles in 2009 and '10.
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS