Essex County News

Boys Basketball: Verona Beats Woodbury, 69-54, to Win 2nd State Title in History, Jocelyn Has Career Day

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Verona celebrates with the State Championship trophy. The Hillbillies defeated Woodbury, 69-54, to win the NJSIAA Group 1 title -- only their second State Title in school history. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Travis Jocelyn throws down a poster dunk that brought the crowd to its feet during Sunday's State Final at Rutgers University. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Travis Jocelyn scored 30 points, the highest total of his career, to lift Verona past Woodbridge in the NJSIAA Group 1 finals Sunday at Rutgers University. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Verona's Jack Farrell, #3, dribbles to the hoop in Sunday's State Final at Rutgers. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Zack Zaccone, #14, goes up for a shot Sunday at Rutgers University. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Joe Zecchino, #11, gets a shot up in Sunday's State Final Credits: Matt Kipp
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Woodbury's Ja'Zere Noel, #1, takes a shot Sunday. Noel finished with 27 points in a losing effort. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Verona head coach Eric McElroy speaks with an assistant coach during Sunday's State Final. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Jack Farrell brings the ball up during Sunday's State Finals. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Ja'Zere Noel takes a shot for Woodbury.
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Rob Sorhaindo waits at the foul line during Sunday's State Final at Rutgers University. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Jack Farrell dribbles the ball during Sunday's State Final at Rutgers University. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Dean Triplett, #2, blocks the shot of Verona's Zack Zaccone during Sunday's State Final at Rutgers University. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Zack Zaccone takes a foul shot. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Verona's bench celebrates a call during Sunday's State Final at Rutgers University. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Ja'Zere Noel of Woodbury finished with 27 points in Sunday's State Final at Rutgers University. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Verona celebrates with the State Championship trophy. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Verona hoists the State Championship trophy to the crowd at the Rutgers Athletic Center. Credits: Matt Kipp
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Travis Jocelyn answers questions in the postgame press conference at the RAC. Credits: Matt Kipp
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PISCATAWAY, NJ — Travis Jocelyn had the game of his career and Verona won its first State Championship since 1957, as Jocelyn dropped 30 points to lead Verona to a 69-54 victory over Woodbury in the NJSIAA Group 1 boys’ basketball State Championship at Rutgers University on Sunday. 

VIDEO of Verona Celebrating can be seen here.

After regaining momentum to take a 30-21 lead into halftime at the storied Rutgers Athletic Center, Verona struggled to hold Woodbury’s high-powered offense at times in the second half. Woodbury, which at one point went on a 10-0 run to pull within mere points, appeared destined to take the once-commanding lead from Verona. 

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Then Travis Jocelyn emerged. 

Verona’s leading scorer, Jocelyn, a senior, pumped in 20 points in the second half to ultimately pull the Hillbillies ahead of Woodbury. The 30-point performance was a single-game career high for Jocelyn, who now has 975 career points and 483 this season.

“Playing at Rutgers was definitely a really great experience. I wanted to make the most of it, I wanted to come out here with a win, so I went out and gave it my all,” Jocelyn said in the post-game press conference. “I was really aggressive on the boards and in the paint, and I just gave it my best effort.”

Jocelyn wasn’t the only Verona Hillbilly to help pull the team ahead. In the second quarter, with Woodbury breathing down its neck, Verona needed someone to stand up and give it momentum entering halftime. Zack Zaccone was that guy, scoring seven of his 11 points in the second quarter and hitting a buzzer-beater to put Verona up nine entering the half — a deficit that was less than half of that moments before.

“I saw our team struggling in the second quarter, so I wanted to pick it up  and help them out so that we could push the lead even further, because they were cutting it down to like, nine points, five points, so I just tried to emphasize myself the rebounds, push, shoot the jump shot if it’s open and attack the basket,” said Zaccone, one of 13 seniors playing for Verona. “The last jump shot, I had no clue how much time was left, I just hoped it went in and we went up by nine.”

Coming out of the half, Woodbury’s Ja’Zere Noel did his best Travis Jocelyn impression, shooting the lights out in the second half and causing some havoc for Verona. Noel finished with 27 points; 21 of them coming in the final 16 minutes. According to Verona head coach Eric McElroy, the Hillbillies knew what to expect from Noel before the game started, but their defensive efforts were able to offset Noel’s shooting dominance.

“We prepped, we got a lot of film on Woodbury, so we were aware of Noel and Estrada, but our focus as a team was to try and limit the damage and get enough from everybody else, and these guys have been doing it all year,” McElroy said. “As far as the defense goes, our help defense was great I thought, we struggled a little bit on the boards in the first half, but we kind of buckled up a little bit in the second half and eliminated second opportunities.”

For Verona, the state championship is extra-special for the vast majority of its roster. Thirteen of Verona’s players are seniors, all of whom will end their high school careers as State Champions. This was a goal of Verona’s early on, and they had constant reminders of it throughout their season, according to senior Jack Farrell.

“We have a big light board in the middle of our locker room, and on it we put like all the recruiting, all the scout teams, and in the top corner, we put goals from the very first practice: Christmas tournament, conference champs, county champs, section champs, group champs and Tournament of Champions (TOC) bound. I think we got Christmas champs, conference champs and now we’ve got Group 1 champs,” Farrell, who chipped in eight points in the game, said. “I think just the fact that we had goals in front of us every single day when we got to practice and strive for motivated us to work harder.”

With Verona’s second ever State Championship victory, the Hillbillies will play in the New Jersey Tournament of Champions, beginning next week. Verona, contingent on the seedings, can run into national powers, such as Linden or Patrick School, as well as additional public champions. 

Said Travis Jocelyn, whom the state will definitely take notice of in the prestigious tournament: “[The TOC] is going to be a really good experience for us. We’re a really good team; I feel like we really don’t back down from anything — it doesn’t matter who we play — and we want people to know who Verona is.” 

Basketball is the only New Jersey sport to play down to one champion, and Verona is one of six teams that could finish the No. 1 team in the state.

But for now, it’s time to celebrate a State Title.

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