It was no great surprise that Jahmal Lane delivered so profoundly to the offense once again with the spotlight shining bright.
The surprise comes when the steady 6-3 senior speaks of such performances as if he's still an unknown commodity on a talented Plainfield squad.
"I'm definitely the X factor of this team," Lane said. "Sekou Harris is a brilliant scorer, so is Justin Sears down low. If I'm contributing, as well, I think we’re going to win."
Lane contributed alright, scoring a season-high 22 points and adding four rebounds, three steals and a block to help top-seeded Plainfield, No. 5 in The MSG Varsity Top 15, defeat third-seeded and No. 15 Roselle Catholic, 72-66, for the Union County Tournament championship Saturday evening before approximately 2,600 at Kean University's Harwood Arena in Union.
Harris, a versatile senior guard, netted 26 points, two below his season high, and senior forward Justin Sears chipped in with 11 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks to guide Plainfield (22-3) to its first UCT title since 1979 and fourth overall. Tyler Roberson tossed in 16 points and Jameel Warney and Hakim Saintil had 15 each for Roselle Catholic (16-8).
And as fabulous as Harris was running the break and hitting numerous big jumpers, and as gritty as Sears was against the powerful Warney, Plainfield would probably still be pining for long-awaited county supremacy if not for Lane's timely shooting and heady defensive play.
"He came up big in a big game, in the fourth quarter and really throughout," Plainfield head coach Jeff Lubreski said. "He hit some big shots and did just a stellar job defensively, rebounding and just giving us again that kind of poise and calm in moments when the game got a little bit hairy."
Take note of the word "again." Lane is no X factor in Lubreski's eyes. More like an O factor, as in offense in a fairly reliable manner in most games and with a particular knack for depositing important points in big games.
Yes, Harris is the highly capable floor general for the Cardinals, the squad's heartbeat who happens to have lightning quickness and a terrific jump shot.
The 6-7 Sears is the highly productive show-stopper in the low post. He blocks shots at one end, throws them down at the other and lifts the Plainfield crowd off their seats at either end.
Even 6-5 senior Diijon Allen-Jordan (who may truly be the X factor) has his spectacular You Tube moments, like when he bounced an inbound pass off a St. Patrick defender in the final seconds of a game last month, caught the rebound and scored with a short jumper at the buzzer for a 66-65 win.
As good as those Plainfield stars are, they rarely outdo Lane against Plainfield's better opponents, and that stood true again Saturday.
Lane scored 10 points in the first half (just below Harris' 12) to help the Cardinals to a 37-30 lead, and he opened and closed the third quarter with buckets, the first for a 39-32 advantage, the second to provide a 53-50 lead following a gutty Roselle Catholic surge fueled by Roberson (eight points).
Roselle Catholic drew to within 53-51 on a free throw by Saintil to open the fourth quarter, but Lane answered with a floater with 7:23 to go and then a three-point play when he was fouled inside off a pass by Sears for a 58-51 lead with 5:47 remaining. The closest Roselle Catholic got after that was three points, on a putback by Wes Cherry with 27 seconds left.
"Jahmal is very consistent," Harris said. "No matter what game it is he's always going to score. I can always depend on him for a good 15 points and a good eight rebounds. Today he got his jump shot going early, and that's what Jahmal does when he's playing well."
Lane actually averages 12.5 points a game (just behind Harris at 14.7 and Sears at 14.5), but it seems like more because he responds so well to tough competition. And Roselle Catholic, with its excellent size and quickness, certainly fit that description.
Lane-- smooth with the ball, hungry and hard-nosed without it--scored 14 points in the semifinals against Elizabeth and 17 in the quarterfinals against Scotch Plains. Six days before the UCT began, Lane had netted 20 points in a stirring 78-77 overtime win over Gill St. Bernard's. He'd also scored 14 points in a regular-season win last month over Roselle Catholic, 58-48, and fired in 21 in that 66-65 win over St. Patrick, but, of course, was upstaged by Allen-Jordan with his outstanding game-ending play.
That's okay by Lane. If the chance to make a game-winning play avails itself, he will not back down. If that opportunity comes to a teammate, Lane will do everything in his power to facilitate it.
"I just go out there and play my role," he said. "I defend if I have to, get down on the floor, get dirty with no problem at all. Anything I have to do for us to come out with a win I'm happy to do."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS