Red Bank Stuns Reigning TOC Winner St. Joe’s-Metuchen in OT to Capture Albert E. Martin Buc Classic Title
By Bobby Klatt - Shore Sports Network contributor
LITTLE SILVER - When Red Bank Regional had defending NJSIAA Tournament of Champions winner St. Joseph's-Metuchen on the ropes in overtime on Tuesday, the motivation to finish off the Falcons and open eyes across the state was not hard to find.
It has only been two years since the passing of the Red Bank player whose name has become a permanent part of what is now the Albert E. Martin Buc Classic. Many Albert Martin shirts could be seen throughout the crowd and the "Buc Deck" student section, and the memory of the smiling senior forward who tragically collapsed and died during a preseason scrimmage in 2012 fueled a 59-54 overtime takedown of the Falcons to give Red Bank the tournament championship on the Bucs' home floor.
The victory ended a 29-game winning streak against New Jersey competition by St. Joe's, with its last loss coming against Roselle Catholic in the 2013 Tournament of Champions.
“We knew the whole time that we were going to do this for Albert,” said senior forward Eddie Hendrex. “This whole thing is for Albert. That picture (the championship photo with Martin’s mother) will always be in our hearts.”
“Albert is all the motivation we need the entire season,” said junior Sadiq Palmer, who was sensational in the victory.
In front of a packed ground, the unbeaten Bucs and Falcons went back and forth from start to finish, as the largest lead through the game was only five points, which both teams had in the second half.
With a minute left in regulation, the Bucs had the choice to hold the ball for the final shot in a 49-49 game. As a play seemed to be developing, guard Anthony Mitchell slipped trying to make a cut and the ball fell out of bounds with 7.8 seconds remaining. St. Joe's gave the ball to their point guard Breein Tyree, who is getting interest from multiple Division I schools, but Red Bank double-teamed him and made him give up the ball, and a 3-point attempt by a teammate at the buzzer was short to send the game to overtime.
“When we came out of the huddle for overtime, I reminded the guys to remember who we are doing this for,” Palmer said.
Overtime seemed to trigger Palmer, as he took off scoring the first seven points for the Bucs on his way to a team-high 15 points in the win to earn tournament Most Valuable Player hononrs. He also played the entire overtime period with four fouls.
The Falcons made it interesting in the final moments as Brian Vujadinovic hit a three to cut the Bucs' lead to 56-54 with 34.5 seconds left. Mitchell then went to the line and hit one of two to keep it a one-possession game. The Falcons came down and had a good look from deep, but the shot rimmed out to give Red Bank an impressive win.
Hendrex was instrumental off the bench, scoring 13 points to give the Bucs a fifth consecutive win to start the season. Hendrex was one of three double-digit scorers for Red Bank along with Palmer and Mitchell, who ended with 11. Vujadinovic scored a game-high 26 points in the loss for St. Joe's, including four 3-pointers.
“We never stopped talking about winning this for Albert and his family, who continue to come to our games and inspire us,” Red Bank coach Scott Martin said. “We played inspired basketball tonight.”
The night started slowly for the Bucs, who missed their first eight shots from the field, including four of those from behind the arc, but they finally got it going three minutes into the game as back-to-back 3-pointers by Mitchell and senior Justin Gilson, tied the game at six.
The Falcons kept the game even by relying on Tyree and Vujadinovic, who scored 16 of the team's 22 first-half points.
In the second half, the Bucs went to a box-and-one on Tyree, which seemed to bother the Falcons and help propel the win.
“We watched them play Middletown North and took a play out of their strategy,” Martin said. “They have a talented team, but we felt so much went through Tyree that we tried to make other guys beat us.”