PISCATAWAY, NJ — Prior to the start of the 2017-18 boys’ basketball season, Roselle Catholic was moved to the North Jersey Non-Public B section, a change from its previous South Non-Public classification.
That meant, among other things, that the Lions had a chance to compete for a sectional title at the storied Rutgers Athletic Center, so long as they conquered their grueling section.
After running roughshod over the Garden State all season, top-seeded Roselle Catholic did find itself at the "Mecca of New Jersey basketball" in the North Jersey final Thursday night. And with the entire state watching, the Lions didn’t disappoint.
Kahlil Whitney went off for a game-best 19 points — including the 1,000th point of his career — and shot 69 percent from the field to lead Roselle Catholic to a 57-40 victory over Gill-St. Bernards in the sectional title game. Alanzo Frink churned out a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Ithiel Horton added 15 points to pace the Lions, who have yet to lose an in-state game this year.
Roselle Catholic, which never trailed, will play Ranney School in the Non-Public B state championship Saturday in Toms River.
Despite the Lions owning a lead lead for 30 minutes, 56 seconds, and a fairly lopsided 17-point margin of victory, it was once a very tight game. A three-pointer by the Knights’ Alex Schachne with 6:11 left in the third quarter tied things up at 25.
That’s when Roselle Catholic took over.
Frink hit a pair of foul shots 50 seconds later to give his team the lead for good, and that sparked an 11-2 Roselle Catholic run. Frink, a 6-foot-9 power forward with numerous Division I offers, accounted for seven of his team’s 11 points during the stretch, including a monster three-point “and one” play that drew the fourth foul on Gill-St. Bernards star Paul Mulcahy.
“We were just rebounding well, just playing intense and trying to find the ball inside,” Frink told TAPinto.net of his team’s game-altering run. “Basically, we just try to rebound, try to score, try to get kick outs and stuff like that.”
As Frink demonstrated, rebounds can be just as important as points during a win. While the senior led in rebounds, his teamed altogether produced a very solid effort on the boards. Roselle Catholic came down with 33 total and out-rebounded its Somerset County counterpart, 33-21. Whitney and All-American Naz Reid added six boards apiece, and Horton and Jason Battle both had five.
“Sometimes when you want to win, you got to make winning plays — whether its down on the floor, or getting a block, steal, anything,” Battle said. “You just got to make winning plays, and that’s what we did.”
Though Gill, a team Roselle Catholic beat 65-58 way back on December 23, scratched it way back and made it a single possession game at one point in the fourth, the Lions turned up their full court pressure to put a nail in the Knights’ coffin.
With 3:51 left in the game and RC leading by six, Horton found an opening and threw down a monstrous slam. The Delaware commit’s jam kickstarted a 6-0 Roselle Catholic run — a sequence in which all six points came on dunks. 30 seconds later, Whitney threw down a two-handed poster dunk, and on the next play, stripped the ball from Mulcahy and brought the RAC down with an emphatic one-handed fast break rim rattler.
That dunk from Whitney — his third of three dunks on the night — gave Roselle Catholic a double-digit (50-38) lead, and that advantage would only grow larger for the Lions.
Whitney’s first dunk of the night — a two-handed slam on a Horton pass — happened to be the 1,000th point of his high school career. Though Whitney, a junior, played his freshman year for Solorio Academy in Chicago, he’s put in 634 points at Roselle Catholic and has blossomed into one of the country’s most coveted recruits during the past two seasons.
“It felt great; my teammates helped me achieve that goal,” said Whitney of reaching the milestone. “The guys came out, played hard, and got the dub.”
To its credit, Gill-St. Bernards — a team that thrives on stellar defense and ball movement — nearly countered the Lions’ every move until the fourth quarter. After RC took a 39-30 lead, Gill mounted a 6-0 run that bridged the final two quarters to pull within a possession, and had accomplished the same feat in the transition from the first to second frames.
Mulcahy, one of the state’s top recruits, pumped in a team-best 15 points and had seven rebounds, and Alex Schachne added nine points for the Knights.
“The game plan kind of slipped away at the beginning of the game, but we got refocused at the half, and I thought the kids were tremendous the entire game,” said Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff. “That’s a great basketball team [Gill-St. Bernards] that plays a tough style for us to guard, with how small they are.”