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LITTLE SILVER -- During their first two weeks of playing high school basketball in the United States, Belgian brothers Matt and Jayden Hodge showed they could thrive in a rowdy homecourt environment.

Friday night, at the Albert E. Martin Buc Holiday Classic Final at Red Bank Regional High School, the Hodge brothers and their St. Rose teammates were even better while playing front of a hostile crowd.

Freshman Jayden scored a game-high 19 points and junior Matt Hodge won the Buc Classic Most Valuable Player award with 18 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks as St. Rose -- No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 -- dominated host Red Bank, 47-26, to win the Buc Classic for the first time.

"This was the first time in a big gym, with a big crowd, on the road," Matt Hodge said. "I give credit to their fans. They were loud: they showed up, they were were talking and that is part of it. It was nice."

St. Rose, Buc Classic champions. (Photo: Matt Manley)
St. Rose, Buc Classic champions. (Photo: Matt Manley)

Red Bank's field house was lively after the Bucs upset Christian Brothers Academy two nights earlier to reach the Buc Classic championship game for the first time since winning it in 2014. The student section and other Bucs fans filling the bleachers were hoping for an even bigger upset to cap the championship run, but the Hodge brothers immediately elicited a hush in the gym.

"The atmosphere gives you energy," Matt Hodge said. "It doesn't matter if it's the home team or the away team, it gives you a lot of energy."

Jayden Hodge buried his first shot of the game, which came from beyond the arc and in helping his team out to a 15-7 lead by the end of the first quarter, Matt Hodge either scored or assisted every point St. Rose scored in the first eight minutes.

Matt Hodge also swiped a pair of steals that led to two first-half dunks and by the halftime buzzer, the Purple Rose owned a 27-12 lead.

"The key every game is defense," Matt Hodge said. "Even if nobody shows up on offense, if we keep playing our defense, everything will be fine and the offense will eventually show up."

As dire as things looked for the Bucs at intermission, they were just two days removed from outscoring CBA by 15 points in the second half to erase a 12-point deficit and stun the Colts, 44-41. On Friday, however, their opponents never let them up for air. After going into the second half trailing by 15, Red Bank never got closer than 15 points.

"The first thing we said in the locker room is we can't let down now," Matt Hodge said. "They are too good of a team for us to stop playing, so we had to play until the final minutes."

The Hodge brothers combined for 37 of St. Rose's 47 points in the game, but St. Rose's defense was the key to the Purple Rose's dominance. Matt Hodge led an effort that held 6-foot-6 Red Bank senior sharp-shooter and leading scorer Collin Teter scoreless, while keeping senior Nick Valentino -- who averaged 19 points per game as a junior -- to five.

"We scouted them, we watched the game two days ago against CBA, so we knew what their strengths and their weaknesses were," Hodge said. "We tried to put pressure on every player on their team and that made it hard to score."

Sophomore Bryan Ebeling -- another international transfer who came over from Italy -- did not score a point for St. Rose on Friday, but cemented his spot on the all-tournament team along with Matt and Jayden Hodge with his all-around performance. Ebeling finished the championship game with eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Juniors Braydon Kirkpatrick and Jameson Ackerman each scored eight points to lead Red Bank's scoring effort.

St. Rose closes the 2022 portion of the season with a perfect 7-0 record and wins over Manasquan, Red Bank, Red Bank Catholic and Notre Dame headlining its body of work. The Purple Roses are still waiting on three more impact, in-state transfers -- junior Gioacchino Panzini and sophomores Peter Mauro and Evan Romano -- to become eligible on Jan. 14. Before then, St. Rose will tangle with Neptune, St. John Vianney, Ranney and Point Pleasant Boro.

Once the Purple Roses have a complete roster, they will face Manasquan and the rest of the Class C North division during the second turn through the schedule, plus the Patrick School, Roselle Catholic, Hudson Catholic, CBA and a second meeting with Red Bank in Little Silver.

"This is why me and my brother came here," Matt Hodge said. "We wanted to compete at a high level."


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