Teaneck certainly appears to possess both the wherewithal and the hunger to compete this March for the state Group 3 title that eluded the Highwaymen last season.
At the same time, it quite clear that Teaneck plans on savoring the many steps it will have to take to fulfill that goal. It refuses to get nostalgic about past successes (as Hackensack found out) for fear of complacency, and the Highwaymen also won't be caught peering very far into the future.
Now is the only moment that really counts for senior guard Chris Jones and his pals. They embrace it, try maximizing its potential and, thus far, have looked darn good existing there.
Just 10 days after a 19-point victory over Hackensack, Teaneck attacked the glass and defended even more emphatically en route to a 74-49 win over those same Comets for the Playaz Jingle Bells Jubilee championship Friday night at the Paterson Charter School.
"We set this as one of our goals. It was the first championship that we could get this year," Jones said. "We just wanted to start off with a chip and that’s what we did."
Jones gunned in 19 of his 27 points to help forge an eight-point lead in the first half, junior guard Shakir Lindsey finished with 16 points and four assists and junior forward Neville Fincher contributed 15 points and 14 rebounds for Teaneck (6-0), No. 5 in the MSG Varsity Top 15. Hackensack (5-2), ranked No. 14, got 12 points apiece from Gene Marshall and Keon Lewis.
Teaneck now hopes to ride that momentum into its clash Sunday with No. 11 St. Patrick at the Playaz New Year's Jump-Off at Hackensack High.
Momentum, by the way, Teaneck is pretty sure it has because it did not waste energy thinking about St. Patrick until it had conducted business once again with Hackensack.
"That's a good game and we're always looking forward to good games. But we had to get ready for Hackensack first," Jones said. " We 're gonna enjoy this tonight, but we just have to have a short memory and get back to work Sunday. We go game to game."
Hackensack sure would appreciated a mental leapfrog by Jones from Wednesday's semifinal-round win over St. Peter's Prep to the St. Patrick game. But the versatile 6-5 senior was locked into the present.
Jones struck for 10 first-quarter points on 4-of-5 shooting to help Teaneck grab a 20-14 lead. He continued to flash his wide-ranging skill set in the second with a tough putback, a power drive into the lane in the halfcourt offense, a long 3-pointer and a tomahawk jam off a feed by Siddiq Patterson in transition.
"He's a senior, he's our leader. He was ready to go tonight," Teaneck head coach Jerome Smart said. " He'll be ready to go all year. He's grown into that role."
The 6-9 Fincher took a little more time than Jones to fully heat up (six points in the first half), but was practically unstoppable on the boards once he found his rhythm in the second half. Fincher netted seven points, hauled in six rebounds and blocked a shot in the third quarter as Teaneck's lead increased to 57-43.
"Neville played like a beast today and that's all just from practice," Jones said. "He really played hard for every rebound and did what we needed him to do tonight."
Hackensack was able to keep pace for the first quarter and a half (it trailed just 26-24 with 3:47 left) behind its occasional pressure and the offensive spark of Figures and Marshall. But the Comets failed to capitalize on several turnovers later in the quarter and Teaneck's size advantage was beginning to take it toll on the boards.
"The size is a problem," Hackensack head coach Aaron Taylor said. : I don’t think it just the height. They're physically big, they wear you down, and they're a great defensive team."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS