St. Anthony headed back to TOC final
St. Anthony’s players were forced to sit and watch Plainfield slowly dispose of St. Joseph (Met.) in the first semifinal of Friday’s doubleheader at the RAC. To the group’s delight, though, the leisurely period enabled a short window of time to relish in the fact that the Friars would have the chance to edge the Cardinals for a second straight year in the championship game.
No, that’s not a date Bob Hurley and company would ever want to miss, so they wasted no time confirming their reservation for the Tournament of Champions final.
Backed by its swarming defense and the motivation to reach the Garden State’s grand stage against a worthy rival, St. Anthony quickly jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in its 72-42 drubbing of Atlantic City.
Now the Friars, fresh off winning their 27th state championship and who are chasing their 12th Tournament of Champions crown, will meet Plainfield on Tuesday at IZOD Center for the title game. They defeated the Cardinals in last year’s final to wrap up a national championship-winning season.
“If you need a motivational speech for Tuesday then we’ve wasted countless days in the winter,” Hurley said. “We’ll be dropping hints about how much we respect them… We don’t have to play Wednesday… We expect a challenge at this point.”
St. Anthony defeated Plainfield, 43-31, on February 7 this year, but Hurley anticipates a closer, more emotional rematch.
“Whenever you play Plainfield, it’s going to be a battle,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “We’re from a more populated area so we have easier opportunities to fill out a roster, but that’s a hotbed right now, no doubt about it.”
The Friars can only hope to start next week’s big game the way it did in the semifinals. Jerome Frink opened the contest with a wide-open lay-up off a nifty dish from UCLA-bound superstar Kyle Anderson. From there, the Friars poured it on with points inside the paint and eventually built a 22-6 lead after the first quarter.
St. Anthony, ranked No. 3 in America by USA Today and No. 1 in the MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 20 for the entire winter season, didn’t let up and later forged a 41-16 cushion by halftime en route to registering its 64th consecutive victory.
Anderson paced his team with 20 points, six rebounds, eight assists and four steals, while Frink finished with 13 points and five boards. Temple-bound guard Josh Brown notched 11 points and five assists and ran the offensive sets efficiently.
“He’s confident running it,” Hurley said of Brown. “He’s a guy who guards the other team’s point guard and presents problems on the offensive end.”
But for Brown and his team, this was just another day at the office for their heralded defense. The suffocating unit stymied Hudson Catholic and Gill St. Bernard’s 53-30 and 67-39, respectively, prior to this tilt. And sure enough, St. Anthony blanked the Group 4 champion Vikings in similar fashion.
Still, Atlantic City mustered more points than more superior teams had against the Friars, and that says a lot about the South Jersey program.
“They’re dangerous because they play so hard,” Hurley said. “We had edges, but give them credit. Put Atlantic City on the floor with (Plainfield and St. Joseph) for 32 minutes and see what happens… But we just didn’t give them hope.”
Keyshawn Dunston scored 15 points to pace the Vikings, who were fresh off a thrilling overtime victory against Ewing in the TOC quarterfinals at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
“We got in line with 30 other teams who were overwhelmed by them this season,” Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter