TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS FINAL
At Izod Center, East Rutherford
3-PLAINFIELD VS. 1-ST. ANTHONY, 8 p.m.
NOTE: This is the second consecutive championship game between St. Anthony and Plainfield. St. Anthony won last year's contest, 61-49.
ST. ANTHONY (31-0)
5-Kyle Anderson, 6-9 Sr. G
33-Jerome Frink, 6-6 Sr. F
1-Joshua Brown, 6-3 Jr. G
3-Hallice Cooke, 6-3 Jr. G
15-Kody Jenkins, 6-5 Jr. F
10-Tariq Carey, 6-2 Sr. G
23-Tarin Smith, 6-0 So. G
21-Kantrell Brooks, 6-8 Jr. F
Keys for St. Anthony:
1. Joshua Brown's defense: The senior has been doing a superb job of cutting off the lifeline of an opponent's offense by covering the ball with stifling consistency. His assignment is likely to be Plainfield point guard Sekou Harris, whose play this season has not only been marked by tremendous speed, but also good decisions. Brown's on-ball tenacity makes passing difficult and also gives the help defense ample time to react. St. Anthony's offense is usually predicated largely on the defense, and Brown will be acutely aware of that as always.
2. Hallice Cooke's shooting. St. Anthony's only real question mark this season has been its perimeter shooting, though the junior guard been able to stretch out defenses a bit in recent weeks with his accuracy. He played a key role against Plainfield in their Feb. 7 regular-season game, sinking three 3-pointers and finishing with 13 points. But the Izod Center has been a notoriously difficult place for shooters in this game, so anything even decent here is usually regarded a bonus. If the 6-3 Cooke sticks a couple early, St. Anthony will be able to control tempo much easier.
3. The overall play of Kyle Anderson. This could easily be the No. 1 priority, except that St. Anthony basically always knows what it's going to get from Anderson. The 6-9 senior guard is typically somewhere within the range of very good to pretty darn spectacular. If Cooke hits jumpers and Brown gets some early dribble penetration, Anderson could be absolutely deadly as a playmaker from one of the wings. But he's going to be covered by an exceptional athlete--whether Taylor Plummer, Jahmal Lane or Justin Sears--and so will be expending a lot of energy on the big floor as a result. Anderson scored 17 points in the championship game last year against Plainfield. He knows how to compose himself under pressure.
One more thing: The Friars carry a 64-game winning streak and a 25-1 T of C record into this game. Three victories during that streak have been 12-point affairs against Plainfield, including a 43-31 win Feb. 7 in Plainfield. St. Anthony's only T of C loss came against Elizabeth in the 1990 championship. St. Anthony seeks its 12th T of C title and also its seventh undefeated season since 1974.
1-Diijon Allen-Jordan, 6-5 Sr. F
23-Justin Sears, 6-7 Sr. F
10-Sekou Harris, 5-10 Sr. G
11-Jahmal Lane, 6-2 Sr. G
21-Ed Anderson, 6-3 Sr. F
00-Taylor Plummer, 6-5 Sr. F
32-Denzel Christian, 6-6 Jr. F
2-Ahmid Williams, 5-7 Sr. G
Keys for Plainfield:
1. The Cardinals' start. They had created solid shot opportunity's in the first quarter of their February clash with St. Anthony, but had trouble connecting. That allowed the Friars to establish momentum that carried them to a 25-16 halftime lead. If Plainfield can grab an early advantage or at least stay even with St. Anthony for the first eight minutes, its confidence could become an effective weapon. Jump shots will probably not be the answer in the first half at the cavernous Izod Center, anyhow, so the Cardinals should go right to their strength and attack the basket with Justin Sears, Jahmal Lane and Diijon Allen-Jordan.
2. The guard play against St. Anthony's pressure. Sekou Harris and Lane actually did a very good job of keeping turnovers down in that 12-point loss to the Friars in February. That's hard to do, because the Friars' stranglehold defense gets to the head as much as it gets to the ball. Harris has done an outstanding job this season--and especially in the tournament--of both running the break and operating the halfcourt sets with poise. He's also the Cardinals' best shooter. The team has supreme confidence in his court direction, so it will important for him to reinforce that faith almost immediately. St. Anthony gets a load of its scoring off turnovers. The Cardinals have to minimize that option.
3. Jahmal Lane's continued effectiveness. The 6-2 senior guard has been Plainfield's answer to a lot of offensive questions throughout the tournament. He has launched rallies with his transition play, finished off quality sets with his mid-range jumper and has seemingly always played the big hand in a game-changing run. Lane averages 14.2 ppg., but has been at 18 for the tournament. He was held to four points in Plainfield's February loss to St. Anthony. If he can score anywhere near his average, that probably means that Plainfield is rebounding well off the defensive boards, establishing some transition and also doing smart things like setting screens for Lane to hit his jumper.
One more thing: Plainfield is only the fourth public school team to reach the championship game two consecutive years. The Cardinals join Elizabeth (1989 and '90), Shawnee ('95 and '96) and Science Park of Newark ('08 and '09). Plainfield looks to become just the fifth public school to claim a title, along with Elizabeth ('90), Shawnee ('92), Orange ('94) and Camden ('00). Four returning seniors, Harris, Lane, Sears and Allen-Jordan, were starters in the championship game last year.
THE PICK: Plainfield has been playing great, but it also was doing pretty well when St. Anthony limited the Cardinals to 10 field goals in that 41-31 win for the Friars in February. St. Anthony's defense certainly is not going to be any more forgiving in this game. Plainfield will scrap and fight for 32 minutes, but that won't necessarily translate into points. Plus, St. Anthony has the state's No. 1 player in Kyle Anderson. St. Anthony, 47-42.
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS