Liam Byrne, Kevin Fazio Help Red Bank Catholic Reach WOBM Classic Final
TOMS RIVER - Just when Freehold Township finally started to slow down hot-shooting Red Bank Catholic guard Liam Byrne in Monday night's WOBM Christmas Classic semifinal, Caseys senior forward Kevin Fazio became a whole other headache.
Byrne poured in 20 of his game-high 23 points in the first three quarters, which included burying a career-high six 3-pointers, and then Fazio brought home a 60-57 win over the third-seeded Patriots (2-3) with 10 of his 12 points in the final quarter. Those two performances were directly connected, as Byrne's long-range bombing helped free things up in the paint for Fabio to help send the second-seeded Caseys (4-1) into Tuesday's championship game at 7:30 p.m. against fourth-seeded Toms River North at Pine Belt Arena.
"When Liam shoots like that, it really makes things easier for everybody else,'' RBC coach James Catalano said. "He gets into a rhythm, and I've never seen anybody shoot the ball like him."
"(Freehold Township) had to spread it out because they had to worry about Byrne and Joe (Montano) hitting the three, so it gave me a lot more room,'' Fazio said.
The game was neck-and-neck the entire way, with no team getting more than six points of separation. The Patriots led 30-27 at the half despite four first-half 3-pointers from Byrne, who shot 6-for-8 from long range in the game.
"I felt good at the beginning of the game and my teammates were able to find me, so I was able to knock down shots,'' Byrne said.
Freehold Township had the lead at the break because its guards were getting into the paint at will off the dribble and dropping it off to the forwards on the block for easy lay-ups before the help came. Eventually RBC morphed from more of a man-to-man look to a match-up zone in the second half to try to slow down Freehold Township's athletic penetrators like Tyree Wilson (10 points, 5 assists) and Nick Facendo (8 points, 5 assists).
"We went into kind of a quasi-match-up (zone) where we forced our weakside help in the paint, and that's where we were getting hurt,'' Catalano said. "They are so quick. (Wilson) is so athletic and goes to the basket strong, so we were concerned about that. I told the kids that we had to meet the challenge, and we came out in man. When it started to falter a little bit, we went into a match-up and did some different things."
The Caseys were able to keep it close by shooting 6-for-11 from behind the arc in the half, getting looks in transition and through crisp passing on the perimeter. They took a 35-33 lead when Byrne buried back-to-back threes with 4:13 left in the third quarter, but a pair of free throws and a driving bucket by Wilson swung the lead back to Freehold Township, which took a 40-39 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The Patriots extended their lead to 47-41 when senior guard Kyle Czajkowski (10 points) nailed a 3-pointer, but RBC began chipping away thanks to Fazio. With Freehold Township concerned about Fazio kicking it out to Byrne and others lurking behind the arc, Fazio was able to catch the ball on the block and often only had one man to beat with the help arriving late. He began taking it to the rim consistently, cutting the lead to four points before junior guard Evan Madigan (11 points) buried a 3-pointer to trim Freehold Township's advantage to 49-48 with 4:01 left in the game.
"In the fourth quarter, we were able to run our offense a lot more,'' Fazio said. "I felt that I could do a lot more in the post, so when they got it in, I looked to dish it out, but then I saw I could go inside and score."
"I think the most important thing we got away from at the end was playing defense,'' said Freehold Township coach Brian Golub. "We got zero stops at the other end. We were concerned about the threes, we didn't help in, we didn't rotate, and we got beat off the dribble. They made plays, and we didn't."
On the other end, RBC's weakside rotations were much better to prevent any easy dump-offs to the block while also challenging any shots in the lane by driving guards. The Caseys held the Patriots without a field goal for the final three minutes of the game. A driving lay-up by junior guard Eddie Hahn (8 points) gave them their first lead of the fourth quarter, 54-53, with 2:05 to go.
The teams then swapped baskets before RBC took the lead for good when Fazio scored inside for a 56-55 advantage with 1:18 remaining. Fazio's basket followed a crucial defensive sequence in which Facendo stole the ball near midcourt with the Patriots up by a point, but RBC senior guard Joe Montano stole it right back on an ensuing pass to set up the possession for Fazio's go-ahead bucket.
The Caseys defense then came up with a stop, Hahn snatched the rebound and was fouled. He hit both free throws with 40.9 seconds left for a three-point lead, but the Patriots cut it back to a one-point deficit on a pair of foul shots by Kyle Czajkowski with 28.6 seconds left in the game.
Montano then made one of two free throws for the Caseys to keep it as a one-possession game, but they came up with another stop when an off-balance floater in the lane by Facendo was short. That resulted in Byrne making one of two free throws for a 60-57 lead with 5.1 seconds left, giving the Patriots one last chance to tie it, but an off-balance 3-point attempt off a sideline inbounds play was way off the mark to put the Caseys into the championship game. RBC will now try to win its first WOBM title in the 31-year history of the tournament.
Red Bank Catholic 60, Freehold Township 57
Freehold Twp. (57): Facendo 2 4-4 8, Wilson 4 2-3 10, J. Czajkowski 3 0-0 9, Stenftenngel 2 0-0 5, K. Czajkowski 3 3-6 10, M. Staklinski 1 0-0 2, Saunders 4 1-1 9, Tajfel 2 0-0 4, Carroll 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 10-14 57.
RB Catholic (60): Byrne 7 3-4 23, Hahn 2 3-4 8, Madigan 4 2-5 11, Fazio 6 0-0 12, T. Montano 1 0-0 2, Poccia 0 0-0 0, J. Montano 1 1-2 4. Totals: 21 9-15 60.
Freehold Twp. (2-3) 12 18 10 17 - 57
RB Catholic (4-1) 11 16 12 21 - 60
Three-pointers: (R) Byrne 6, Hahn, Madigan, J. Montano; (F) J. Czajkowski 3, Stenftennagel, K. Czajkowski. Fouled out: None.