In Roman Catholic doctrine, St. Anthony is considered, among other things, the patron saint of lost things.
Can't find the car keys? Pray to St. Anthony. Misplace those important school notes? He's your man.
Don't, however, waste your time praying to the good Saint to throw out a GPS for a lost offense. The backlog on that order is off the charts by now and, besides, he's got a rooting interest in the matter.
Once again, a highly talented team went face to face with St. Anthony, this time the red-hot unit from Gill St. Bernard's. And once again, St. Anthony squared up, followed the scouting report with meticulous care and brought one more explosive offense to its knees.
So to speak.
Seniors Kyle Anderson and Jerome Frink and junior Hallice Cooke scored 15 points each and all contributed greatly to one of the best defensive performances ever in a state final to power the undefeated Friars, No. 1 in the MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 20, to a 67-39 victory for the NJSIAA/ShopRite Non-Public B championship Sunday afternoon at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway.
"It's team defense," Anderson said. "If one of the guys get beat, we're there for him, just like off the court, If one if our brothers is in trouble, we're there to help him."
If we all had help like that, there'd be less need for prayers.
Gill St. Bernard's (27-3) came in ranked No. 9 in the Tri-State Top 20 and with a robust 72.4 ppg. average thanks to the remarkable shooting ability of Jaren Sina and Alex Mitola and the steady interior play of fellow senior Dominic Hoffman. Surely these talented Knights would be able to run their offense with some degree of consistency against the Friars.
They would have had an easier time running for office.
St. Anthony--led by the suffocating ball pressure of Joshua Brown and Cooke-- limited the Knights to one 3-point shot and a free throw in the first quarter as it opened a 9-4 lead, then allowed just two field goals in a flawlessly executed second quarter that saw the Friars move in front, 28-8.
"Defense turned into so many transitions that established great shots and built up momentum," St. Anthony head coach Bob Hurley said. "It's one of those games where you wish halftime wasn't coming and you could just keep playing because you know there's going to be a slowdown in momentum."
St. Anthony did reel off the first six points of the third quarter for a 34-8 advantage, but it's true that Gill was able to present itself much more competitively after the break. Sina scored 13 of his team-high 16 points in the second half and Mitola connected for all of his nine.
"I felt before and I feel now that we played against one of the best defenses in the country," Gill head coach Mergin Sina said. "We played much better in the second half. We just felt it was a real big hole, and you can't do that against a team like this."
This St. Anthony team--the consensus 2011 national champion and ranked No. 1 now in some polls--locked down its 27th Non-Public B title (25th in 40 seasons under Hurley) and also stretched its winning streak to 63 games. The top-seeded Friars will now shoot for their 12th Tournament of Champions crown, and second straight, when they play Friday in the semifinals at the RAC against the winner of Wednesday's quarterfinal game between fifth-seeded Ewing and fourth-seeded Atlantic City at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
That's a lot of titles that were also predicated upon outstanding defense. But no previous championship team played defense night after night the way this group has, and that assessment comes directly from the Naismith Hall of Famer himself.
"This is statistically proven to be the best defensive team to ever play at this school," Hurley said. "We've played great teams and very few teams have gotten into the 50s against us."
St. Anthony has yielded an average 35.6 ppg., including a paltry 30.7 in four state tournament games. It held formidable Hudson Catholic to 30 points three nights earlier in the North Jersey final, limited St. Peter's Prep to 21 two months ago, why the Friars held No. 8 Plainfield, the state Group 3 champion, to just 31 points last month.
"It makes me feel great to hear Coach Hurley say that," Anderson said. "I've been watching St. Anthony since I was two-years old, and all the great defensive players--Rashon Burno, Donald Copeland, Dwayne Lee…to be called the best is just an honor."
Anderson sure did enough on Sunday to deserve the honor. Along with his 15 points, the future UCLA Bruin he had 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.
"This game gave you all a chance to see Kyle's talents when he can just be around the basket," Hurley said, "and as the game is being played he's getting steals, he's blocking shots and how many defensive rebounds did he throw the length of the court?"
Frink, who covered the hard-nosed Hoffman, closed with six rebounds and a block, Brown scored 13 points and came up with three blocks and Cooke chipped in with six rebounds and four steals. The only time he was caught off guard was when Hurley offered his all-time appraisal.
"That's great," Cooke said. "I'm going to tweet it as soon as I get out of here. We can talk with all the old teams about that now."
EWING 59, PASCACK HILLS 50
Shelly Dearden insisted that she did not set out to make history Sunday afternoon at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
What she wanted to make, was a lot of people in Ewing Township happy after its sad memory of a loss to Newark Central in last year's championship game.
She did both.
Senior forward David Azoroh paced a balanced attack with 14 points and his Blue Devils teammates used their size advantage effectively to send Ewing to its first NJSIAA crown since 1992 and make Dearden New Jersey's first woman to coach a boys basketball team to a state title.
"I think that's very, very nice, but my ultimate goal wasn't to be the first female," she said. "My thing is for these guys and Ewing fans to celebrate a state championship. It's about the boys, it's about the fans, it's about the community, the high school. It's not about Shelly Dearden."
Isaiah York and Dontae Jones each scored 13 points and collected five rebounds and Tyquan Crews netted 12 points and had 11 rebounds for Ewing (26-6), which dominated Pascack Hills (25-5) on the boards and scored the majority of its points either in the paint or from the foul line after shots in the lane.
"We knew going in they had a big size advantage on us and in the end that hurt us," Pascack Hills head coach Chris Kirkby said. "A very physical, very athletic, very good basketball team."
Feisty Pascack Hills, though, stayed within a few baskets of Ewing for much of the first half and cut its deficit to 32-31 midway in the third with a 6-0 run sparked by Andy Kovner inside and capped by Jared Shill with a pull-up jumper. But Azoroh drove hard to the basket on the following possession to spark a 6-0 move that put the Blue Devils in front, 38-31.
"I knew something had to be done, so I just put it on the floor and got it done," Azoroh said.
The 6-5 senior also finished with eight rebounds and two assists.
Shill, a talented 6-1 senior, led Pascack Hills with 18 points, including 14 in the second half. Senior guard Cole Dorfman scored 11 points and Kovner added nine for the Cowboys.
ATLANTIC CITY 53, ELIZABETH 47
Atlantic City head coach Eugene Allen says the sky will basically be the limit for 6-8 junior Jahleem Montague when he learns to commit himself for a full four quarters.
On Sunday afternoon, one was more than enough.
Montague dropped in eight of his 13 points and also pulled down six of his 12 rebounds in the fourth quarter to rally Atlantic City from a 37-34 deficit at the Rutgers Athletic Center. That gave the Vikings their second state crown since 2005 and denied Elizabeth its first championship in 21 years.
"Jahleem has to be enlightened that basketball is four quarters. He seems to pick his spots," Allen said. "We need him to play a full four quarters; when he does you see the results."
Isaiah Davis turned in a fine overall game for Elizabeth (22-7) with 16 points, seven rebounds and six blocks and junior guard Hakeem Rogers scored scored 15 points and had three steals for the Minutemen. They carried that three-point lead into the fourth and were ahead, 40-38, early in the final period, but suddenly could not keep Montague away from the rim.
The 6-8 junior, five inches taller than Elizabeth's biggest starter, tied the game at 40-40 on a tough putback with 6:29 to play, forged a 46-41 lead on a dunk with 3:49 to go and opened a 50-43 lead on another dunk with 46 seconds remaining.
Atlantic City (25-5) started three juniors, but Elizabeth started five and used two more juniors off the bench. Elizabeth became seasoned by battling in the tough Watchung Division of the Union County Conference, winning 11 of its last 14 games.
"We play a great schedule and we've done some great things this year," Elizabeth head coach Chris Balent said. "We went from being a big-time underdog and…I don't do the rankings, but I'm sure people are going to look at what we have coming back and expect big things from us. I know how hard these kids work. I wouldn't be surprised to see them back."
Elizabeth attacked the basket fearlessly in the first half to get itself to the foul line early and forge a 26-23 lead. Allen told his players that Elizabeth would not back down and, in fact, had been preparing the Vikings all along for a hard-nosed, battle-tested opponent from the North.
"We try to have a northern New Jersey mentality," Allen said. "We know it's going to be tough, going to be physical and we try to prepare them for that."
ASBURY PARK 79, UNIVERSITY 76
Asbury Park jumped out to a 12-2 lead and the defending Group 1 champion was out in front, 45-30, at the half behind the shooting of sophomore guard Thomond Hammary and the scorching transition game led by twin brothers Armond and Amir Conover.
Somehow, Asbury Park head coach Dave Johnson knew the lead was not safe and was sure to articulate his fears at halftime.
"Coach Johnson told us we had to play defense like we were down 30 and offense like we were up 30," Amir Conover said.
Sound advice, because that lead shrank to 58-50 by the end of the third quarter, was whittled down to three with 3:43 to go in the game and the lead became a deficit when University's Keith Foster buried a 3-pointer for a 73-72 edge with 1:18 to go.
But Asbury Park (21-6) reclaimed the lead just seven seconds later on a three-point play from Hammary off a fast break and a free throw by him with 50 seconds to go for a 76-73 lead. Elijah Brown drove through the lane to bring University (19-12) to within 76-75, but Amir Conover increased the lead to three when he hit two free throws with 27.5 seconds left.
"When the game's on the line, we just clamp down and do what we have to do," Conover said. "They (University) didn't give up and they fought back hard. That's what we expected."
Armond Conover pumped in 21 points and added two steals, Hammary had 20 points and Amir Conover tossed in 16 points and added six rebounds and five assists for the Blue Bishops. University got 22 points and six rebounds from Brown, 19 points, six rebounds and four steals from Foster and 13 points from Joseph Kelley.
University settled down nicely after the rocky first half, though found that an Asbury Park team just a few points ahead was just as hard to catch as one with a 15-point lead.
"Whenever we made a mistake, whatever that may have been, they capitalized right on it," University head coach Elijah Allen said. "We were always climbing the hill, and that's rough."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS