TRENTON, NJ — The golden ball trophy, earned each year by the New Jersey boys’ basketball Tournament of Champions winner, has been no stranger to Roselle Catholic High School in recent years.
And, while it may be arriving broken apart, the gleaming ball of accomplishment will again be making its way back to the school on the corner of Raritan Road and Pine Street.
After watching its early lead evaporate Sunday evening at the CURE Insurance Arena, Roselle Catholic eventually recovered and claimed what has seemed to be its destiny since day one: the 2017-18 Tournament of Champions crown for boys’ basketball, and third T of C title in the last six seasons.
With its 61-54 triumph over Don Bosco Prep, the Lions, who officially finish as the No. 1 team in New Jersey, have now won titles in this season’s Tournament of Champions, State Non-Public B, North Jersey Sectional, Union County Tournament, and Watchung Division. The team also completes its schedule undefeated in the basketball-religious Garden State, and 29-4 overall.
In simpler terms: One of the greatest high school basketball teams in the history of New Jersey now has all the credentials to show for it.
“It’s insanely incredible; to win all five of those championships is very hard to do in the state of New Jersey — it might be the toughest state in the whole country if you ask me,” senior forward Naz Reid, who dropped a team-high 22 points, told TAPinto.net. “For us to come together and bond as a unit as we did, and win all five of those championships, was just an outstanding feeling. To get here and win another ring with my guys, it’s an honor.”
Precisely, what has accounted for Roselle Catholic’s rise to the top of the basketball stratosphere this year has been its brand of team basketball. While the Lions possess a deadly combination of game-changing players and Division I talent, the team has never been one to worry about personal accomplishments.
So, when five-star ranked Reid, who had been owning the game, was relegated to the bench with foul trouble late in the second half, it was the next man up mentality that put the Lions ahead for ever.
“When [Naz] got to four fouls, we all came together as a team and said, ‘We have to really pick the pace up’,” said Alanzo Frink, who finished with 16 points. “Now that he was out, we lost one big, so I had to step up and do everything I could to help my team.”
Don Bosco had tied the game at 42 apiece on two foul shots from Ron Harper, Jr. 13 seconds into the fourth quarter. But with Reid out of the game to manage his four fouls, fellow senior forward Frink led the Lions on a 12-2 run to claim the lead for good. Josh Pierre-Louis started the run with a diving floater to give his team a 44-42 lead, and Frink would then sprinkle in seven of his team’s 12 points during the stretch, including a monster dunk on a fast break pass from Jason Battle.
By the time the run — which ended on a Reid one-handed alley-oop from Pierre-Louis — was over, RC had mounted a double-digit (54-44) lead with just over three minutes left to play, and never relented it.
“Our whole team is really versatile, we all can move our feet on the wing, so we all play hard and pressure the ball,” Frink said about the run. “We got rebounds, pushed the ball, and got scores.”
While Frink helped Roselle Catholic pick itself up again, it was Reid who got the Lions started.
Playing in the final game of his legendary high school career, the LSU-bound Reid dropped 12 points the first quarter alone and helped the Lions build a momentum-setting 18-9 lead at the end of one.
RC closed out the quarter on an 8-0 run, which, while lasting just 1:41, displayed the entire versatility of Reid’s game. On three separate plays during the sequence, Reid drew a three-point “and one” play, drove to the baseline and threw down a thunderous poster dunk, and took one dribble before pulling up for a deep three-pointer.
That type of unguardable play has been put on by Reid all postseason long. He averaged 16.5 points during the State Tournament and T of C, which is his final sendoff before heading to Baton Rouge next year.
“Setting the tone early, I just let everyone know this is what I want since day one,” Reid said. “Last year, I missed the final two games, and my guys missed me… Today in the first quarter, setting the tone, showing people that this is just what I wanted since the beginning of my high school career.”
Though it cooled down midway through the game, Roselle Catholic was kept afloat by the play of its usual stalwarts. Pierre-Louis hit clutch shots and finished with eight points, while Ithiel Horton and Kahlil Whitney combined for 12 — the majority of which came in the second and third quarters.
Led by Harper, Jr.’s 33 points, Don Bosco regathered itself and even took a lead once in the second half. Marcellus Earlington, headed to St. John’s next year, dunked a putback to give his team its first lead, 31-30, with 6:59 left in the third quarter.
Don Bosco outscored Roselle Catholic, 31-24, during the middle two quarters, but RC’s dominant first and fourth frames outweighed that.
“These guys started right before Thanksgiving, and they had one goal in mind, which was to win the TOC,” said head coach Dave Boff. “To see them finish the job tonight and get that championship is something I’m sure they’ll never forger, and that myself and anyone associated with Roselle Catholic will forget.”