Boys Basketball – Shore Conference Tournament Final Preview
Shore Conference Boys Basketball Tournament Championship
No. 1 Point Pleasant Beach (24-1) vs. No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy (17-4)
Saturday, March 1, 3:30 p.m.
At the Multipurpose Activities Center, Monmouth University
The Christian Brothers Academy basketball program has been in plenty of games in which a group of upstarts that is only starting to prove themselves takes on a team of talented players with a track record and designs of winning a championship that has been predicted from the start of the season.
It’s just very rare that CBA is playing the role of upstart.
The Colts have won a record 16 Shore Conference Tournament championships and have been the standard when it comes to basketball programs in the Shore Conference over the last 20-25 years, but in their quest for a 17th conference title, CBA is the one looking to knock off another preseason favorite.
Like Point Pleasant Beach, its opponent Saturday afternoon at Monmouth University, CBA has not lost to a Shore Conference opponent this year thanks to a 13-0 record against its Class A North schedule and four losses to teams from outside the area. CBA’s lone wins over Shore Conference teams outside of its division have come in this tournament, while Point Beach was 4-0 in such games before the tournament even started.
“I know some people think our division (Class A North) wasn’t that good this year and we hadn’t beaten anyone else in the Shore Conference, but we still felt we played some really good teams from other conferences,” sophomore Pat Andree said. “There have been some doubters and that’s fine. We like the idea of being the underdog because if no one expects us to win, we can go out and play with nothing to lose.”
Point Beach – the tournament’s top seed and last year’s runner up – has been the Shore’s No. 1 team this season since the opening tip this season and although the Garnet Gulls offense has struggled during the tournament, nothing has happened to change that perception. In each of Point Beach’s three tournament wins, the offense has come alive for a long enough stretch to pull away from the opposition. Regardless of how they have made it this far, the Garnet Gulls are one win away from their first ever SCT title.
“Last year still hurts,’’ senior guard Matt Farrell said. “We got our athletic director telling us we’ll get a big banner in our gym, so we want to get this one bad. We’ll be ready.”
The Garnet Gulls were up only one on Southern early in the fourth quarter before pulling away for a 62-42 win over the Rams in the round of 16. They then needed double overtime to advance past No. 9 Jackson Memorial in the quarterfinals and even trailed early in the first overtime in that game. The Garnet Gulls' run continued Wednesday against No. 4 Matawan, which jumped out to an 11-2 lead before Point Beach turned up its defense and eventually found its offense in the second half, mostly from the free-throw line.
Like Point Beach, CBA has survived only one real scare and even in that scare – a 50-47 win over No. 7 Neptune in the quarterfinals – the Colts never trailed in the game. CBA’s most impressive win of the run came Wednesday against defending champion Lakewood, which the Colts beat 57-47 and led since the middle of the second quarter.
The Colts have ridden a balanced attack all season long, with all five starters leading the team in scoring in at least one game this year. Sophomore Pat Andree has been the most consistent scoring source at just under 16 points per game and is coming off a 13-point showing against Lakewood. Senior Louie Pillari led the Colts with 14 points against Lakewood and is the top perimeter defender and ball-handler on the team as well.
Junior Jack Laffey, senior Chima Ekekeugbor, and senior Rob Kennedy are also scoring threats, with Ekekeugbor and Laffey giving CBA an edge on the boards. Senior sixth man Evan Gordinier has also given CBA a scoring boost since returning from an early-season foot injury that forced him to miss five games.
Point Beach, meanwhile, is led by its standout trio of Division I athletes, led by Farrell. The senior point guard is averaging 19 points, four rebounds, six assists and four steals per game on the season, although he is coming off one of his quietest offensive games of the season against Matawan (11 points on one made field goal). Senior forward and Iowa recruit Dom Uhl and senior Yale football recruit Noah Yates have also seen their scoring go down in the SCT, but Uhl has managed to meet his season average of 14 points in each of the last two games.
The two teams have not met in either this season or the last, but prior to the 2012-13 season, the Colts and Garnet Gulls met in three straight Shore Conference Tournaments. CBA defeated Point Beach in the 2010 quarterfinals as the No. 1 seed and again in 2012 as the No. 15 seed against the No. 18 Garnet Gulls. Point Beach upset the No. 1 Colts in the 2011 SCT quarterfinals as the No. 8 seed and all three games were decided by three points or less.
“We’ve had some battles in recent years, so we’re pretty familiar with their team,” Billet said. “We’ve seen their guys in the summer time and going into the year, we knew that they were a team we were probably going to have to go through to win the Shore Conference.
“We’ll have a game plan ready. It’s going to be a great challenge for us and hopefully we’ll be up to the task and it will be a great final at Monmouth.”
The last non-quote line above is the interesting statistic heading into Saturday afternoon. These two programs have a rather extensive recent history with one another and each showdown has come down to the last possession, which suggests an entertaining final at Monmouth right?
Well, sort of. More recent history suggests that Monmouth has not been a good setting for the final for those who might prefer offense of any kind. Of the three championship games held at the MAC, the highest single-game scoring output is 43 points by Raritan in 2011 and the Rockets were the only one of the six participants to crack 40 points.
While I feel pretty confident in predicting both of these teams will eclipse 40 points, it’s not a sure thing based on the way the last two rounds have played out. Possessions have been far more deliberate and defenses have clamped down, so while the scoring should be up from years past, expect a lower-scoring game than either of these teams is used to playing.
Point Beach has shown it can defend the three-point shot, but CBA poses more three-point weapons than most teams. The Colts can throw out a lineup with five three-point shooters if it wishes, which could test Point Beach’s defensive depth. The only player in CBA’s lineup who is not really a threat to shoot the three is Ekekeugbor, and he is the teams’ best rebounder. The Colts probably won’t be looking to sit their best rebounder against an opponent that is big across the board, and whenever offense has been a need, regardless of the lineup, CBA has been able to find it.
CBA is seemingly facing Point Beach at the right time because the Garnet Gulls have scored below their season average in each their three tournament games and have failed to score more than 53 in either of the last two (one in double overtime). Farrell favored passing the ball off his penetration in the win over Matawan and as a result, made only one field goal. Part of what makes Farrell so hard to cover is that he takes what defenses give, and it’s possible that Matawan was just committed to making him pass the ball.
Matawan played a very unique defense against Point Beach and while it’s likely that CBA throws Point Beach some different looks and uses many of the same principles, my hunch is that Point Beach sees a more conventional look with bigger, longer personnel. Size and physicality appear to be somewhat of an equalizer against Point Beach, so if CBA brings its hard hat, watch out. In the end, though, this is the year of the Beach if there ever was one. The Pick: Point Beach, 49-44