HACKENSACK -- The Hackensack Comets boys basketball team won its second sectional championship in three years, overcoming a sluggish start to blow out visiting North Bergen, 87-63, in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 final.
Hackensack trailed by as many as six points late in the first quarter, but turned it on in the second quarter behind the play of Senior guard B.J. Saliba, who erupted for 15 points in the period. The maximum occupancy crowd of 2,800 was leaning slightly in favor of the home team, but the players found motivation within.
The two teams have history, and this game was an opportunity for North Bergen to establish its dominance in the rivalry. A year ago, North Bergen defeated Hackensack in the sectional quarterfinals, 87-84 in overtime in a game held at North Bergen.
That memory was still seared into Hackensack’s minds and despite the early deficit on Monday, knew that this time, the outcome would be different.
“We took it real personal,” said Saliba, referring to last year’s loss. “We couldn't let them come into our home and take this away from us. We came in here wanting to make history. Losing was not an option.”
Seniors Saliba, Atiba Taylor, Toren Portee and Razayeh Surrell have had countless memorable moments on the court over their careers at Hackensack High School, most notably a North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 sectional title as sophomores in 2016.
Playing on that very court for the final time, that veteran core ensured its final memories were ones of championship glory.
All four seniors scored in double figures, led by Saliba’s 25 points, along with 10 rebounds.
6-7 forward/center Chandler Williams led the team in rebounding with 11, and recorded a monstrous seven blocks.
“It means a lot. We're the first to win two sectional (titles), me, Atiba, Razeyah and Toren,” said Saliba, a 6-foot-4 guard, who added 10 rebounds and eight steals. “Sophomore year, it felt good, but knowing that this was our last game ever in this gym, it means even more.”
The Comets tied the game at 24-all when Taylor found Surrell for a transition layup, then moved in front for good on three Taylor free throws with 5:23 left in the opening half. Saliba would then score 13 of his team’s next 17 points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Hackensack a 42-35 halftime advantage.
“B.J.'s a big player,” said Taylor. “Any school that offers him is going to be lucky because he works hard, he's a good player, he's an all-around player.”
Like his teammate, Taylor is also one of the state’s top guards and he showed it in the third quarter. A Youngstown State commit, Taylor scored four of his team’s first six points in the period. Taylor added nine more as part of a 17-4 Hackensack run to end the third quarter with his old-fashioned three-point play serving as the exclamation point of the surge.
Taylor finished with 20 points and six assists. Portee, a guard, had 14 points, Surrell, a forward had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“This is a senior group that has been through battles and been through the wars a little bit,” Hackensack coach Aaron Taylor said. “I think they're just peaking at the right time. They don't get down too much, they don't too high, they don't get too low. They just had to stick with the game plan and eventually we'd pull it out.”
The Comets will look to keep their dream of a state championship alive on Wednesday when they face North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 champion Newark East Side in the Group 4 quarterfinals at 7 p.m. at Elizabeth High School.