LINDEN, NJ- The Linden High School Tigers boys varsity basketball team came into Tuesday night as the leading scorers on their team, which has been off to a hot start to start the 2017-18 season.
The Tigers won six of their first seven games to open the season, including victories over Westfield HS, Bergen Catholic HS (ranked No. 9 on NJ.com’s Top 20), Orange HS and Timber Creek HS (ranked No. 20 on NJ.com’s Top 20), along with two wins out of three games played in South Carolina over the Christmas break.
The roster, which features eight seniors and ten underclassmen (five juniors, five sophomores), has continued to play at the same mode as Linden teams of previous seasons.
“[The guys] are turning into a Linden basketball team every day,” Linden head coach Phil Colicchio said. “We graduated ten kids last year, a lot of people, there’s going to be growing pains.”
Senior Tavon Jones scored 27 points, while senior Mikey Watkins added 24 points as the Tigers (ranked No. 5 on NJ.com’s Top 20) rolled past the Union High School Farmers in front of a packed crowd, in Coach Colicchio Court by a final score of 66-33 Tuesday night in Linden.
In the third quarter, with Linden holding a 30-18 halftime lead over Union, Jones and Watkins combined for nine of the Tigers’ 11 points during an 11-1 scoring run, in which Linden opened it up, taking a 41-19 lead just two and a half minutes into that portion of the game.
Watkins added 11 points in the third quarter alone, while Jones added six points to give Linden a 49-30 lead through three quarters of play. The Tigers took control with the defense transitioning into the offense.
“It’s not just me [leading the way], you’ve got two other captains in Mikey Watkins and Luis Rodriguez,” Jones said. “They push and talk as much as I do every day in practice and that’s why I think we’re doing so well.”
In the fourth quarter, Linden held Union to only three free throws and no baskets for the first five and a half minutes of action in the quarter. Within that time duration, the Tigers scored 13 straight points to build their lead up to 62-30.
Overall, throughout the second half, the Tigers were not only adding points on constant possessions, but were also suffocating Union and their key players defensively on the Farmers’ offensive possessions.
As a team, Linden had 13 steals and two blocks on the defensive side, with Jones and senior Jaylin Cooper-Reid recording three steals a piece. Watkins, senior Luis Rodriguez and sophomore Myles Ruth added two steals each, contributing in a way outside of the offensive outburst the Tigers displayed.
“We try to think we’re the best defensive team in the state of New Jersey and night-in and night-out, we go out and prove it,” Colicchio said about his team’s defense. We held a good Union team to 33 points, that’s pretty good for a team that’s averaging about 65 points a game.”
As the game started, Linden and Union played back-and-forth, the Tigers holding a 6-5 lead just four minutes into the game, before closing out the quarter on a 9-2 scoring run to take a 15-7 lead after the first quarter.
As the second quarter started, it didn’t take long for Linden to also add to their offensive rhythm, taking a 22-9 lead just two minutes into the second quarter.
The Tigers pressed on defense when the Farmers were setting up towards going to the basket, turning turnovers into rushes down the floor and into point, to add to their lead.
“Our defense plays together and listening to Coach [Colicchio] is key. It’s us working at it every day,” Watkins said.
For Union, senior Derryen Whyte scored 11 points in the loss, while senior Tyrone Bowens and Jabri Lateaf added six points a piece for the Farmers. Junior Ramal Harris tallied ten points.
The Linden Tigers (7-1) are back in action on their home court when they play their crosstown rival, Elizabeth HS on Thursday, January 11 at 7:00 p.m.
“It’s a natural rivalry, Linden and Elizabeth. They’ve gotten off to a decent start this year,” Colicchio said of Elizabeth HS. “You’ve got to go out there and battle and play. We have to work for everything that we get. Usually, our best offense is our defense and we try and prove that every night.”
The Union Farmers (4-5) are back in action when they return home to play American History HS (Newark) Thursday, January 11 at 7:00 p.m.