Boys Basketball – Marlboro, Elizabeth Clash for Group 4 Championship
NJSIAA Group IV Championship
Sunday, March 13, 2022, 4 p.m.
At Jersey Mike’s Arena, Rutgers University
Marlboro (28-2) vs. Elizabeth (18-6) - Watch Live
Marlboro at a Glance
Head Coach: Mike Nausedas
Group Championships: None
Group Final Appearances (Including 2022): None
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 16 Sayreville, 86-50, in Central Jersey Group IV first round; No. 8 Howell, 77-64, in CJ4 quarterfinals; No. 4 South Brunswick, 55-46, in CJ4 semifinals; No. 7 Trenton, 75-67, in CJ4 final; No. 2 Lenape, 49-47, in Group IV semifinal
Jon Spatola, Sr., 5-8, Guard
Zack Molod, Sr., 5-11, Guard
Jay Ratner, Sr., 6-3, Forward
Jack Seidler, Sr., 6-5, Forward
Vin Spatola, Sr., 5-11, Guard
Mustangs off the Bench
A.J. Schwartz, Jr., 6-0, Guard
Elizabeth at a Glance
Head Coach: Phil Colicchio
Group Championships: 5 (1988-1991, 1985)
Group Final Appearances (Including 2022): 6 (1995, 1988-91, 1985)
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 8 J.P. Stevens, 68-53, in North 2 Group IV first round; No. 1 Watchung Hills, 58-56, in NJ2G4 quarterfinals; No. 5 Newark East Side, 55-47, in NJ2G4 semifinals; No. 3 Linden, 49-47, in NJ2G4 final; No. 1 Ridgewood, 72-53, in Group IV semifinal
Justin Jules, Sr., 5-11, Guard
Sebastian Robinson, Jr., 6-3, Guard
London Carson, So., 6-1, Guard
Justin Agyare, Sr., 6-3, Guard
Sean Jules, Sr., 6-4, Forward
Minutemen off the Bench
Zyree Beverly, Sr., 6-6, Forward
Etienne Richelieu, Sr., 6-4, Guard/Forward
Elijah Bruno, Sr., 5-10, Guard
Breaking it Down
It feels like this is a big-name program vs. a new face and in some respects that is true. It is indisputable with respect to Marlboro, which won its first ever NJSIAA sectional championship Monday against Trenton and had never even played in a sectional final before losing in the 2020 Central Jersey Group IV final.
Not only has Marlboro not found success in Group IV prior to this season; the Shore has found Group IV to be difficult over the last four decades. The 1980-81 Neptune team is the last Shore Conference squad to win the Group IV championship and no team from the Shore had even made it to the Group IV final since 1981 until Freehold Township made the trip to Piscataway in 2019.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, is one of only four public school teams to win a Tournament of Champions final, which it during a stretch that included four straight Group IV championships from 1988 to 1991.
Since that 1991 group championship, though, the Minutemen have been to only one Group IV championship and that was in 1995. Since then, Elizabeth has been overshadowed by other teams in Union County – New Jersey’s deepest county when it comes to high-level teams.
Elizabeth has been resurgent in the last three years, which coincides with the tenure of head coach Phil Colicchio. During his time as head coach at Linden, Colicchio led the Tigers to six Group IV championships and to two Tournament of Champions finals and has transferred that success over to his alma mater.
Although Elizabeth still has not played in a Group IV championship game since 1995, the Minutemen won the final game of the boys basketball season in 2020 – a Group IV semifinal win that would have put Elizabeth in the Group IV final had it not been canceled due to COVID-19.
That 2019-20 team was led by sophomore Jayden Pierre, who has since transferred to Long Island Lutheran and signed to play at Providence. Despite that significant loss, Elizabeth has soldiered on with a balanced team that has been strong on the defense end and hard-to-bury in close games.
The Minutemen also have an emerging star in their own right in junior Sebastian Robinson. The 6-foot-3 guard enters Sunday averaging 21.9 points and 4.2 assists and is Elizabeth’s go-to scorer and playmaker, particularly in clutch situations.
Speaking of clutch situations, both these teams come in with some inspiring play in late-game situations. On Wednesday, it was Marlboro coming through in crunch time, with the Mustangs rallying from a 13-point first-half deficit and getting three key stops at the end of the game to secure a 49-47 win over a talented Lenape squad that beat Elizabeth in Atlantic City during the regular season.
Elizabeth is coming off its highest-scoring game of the season in a 72-53 victory over Ridgewood that, amazingly-enough, was the only state tournament game the Minutemen played on their home floor. As the No. 9 seed in the North Jersey 2 Group IV section, Elizabeth had to go on the road for its four wins and then benefitted from the Dunn Center being the predetermined site for the Group IV semifinal.
Before Wednesday, Elizabeth had not scored 70 points in a game this season, while Marlboro has done it 20 times and on three occasions just in the NJSIAA Tournament. Defensive teams tend to succeed in dictating tempo vs. offensive teams, but Marlboro showed against Lenape that it can adapt to a slower-paced games. When it comes to performing under pressure, Elizabeth has it embedded in the program DNA, but the Marlboro players have shown many times – including in past years as underclassmen – they can handle any situation.
Where Elizabeth could wear down the Mustangs is with its bench. The Minutemen have answers off the bench and while Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas has done an excellent job of navigating foul trouble and fatigue over the last two weeks, Sunday’s game will be even more challenging because of how physical and aggressive Elizabeth is comfortable playing.
The simple equation for Marlboro is it has to shoot the ball better than it did against Lenape while maintaining the same intensity on the defensive end and the glass. If Marlboro can score in the high sixties, Elizabeth has struggled to score at that pace. If the game is played in the fifties, the scale tips in favor of Elizabeth. The Minutemen haven’t allowed 70 points in a game all year and allowed 60 points just twice – both to Roselle Catholic.
Marlboro is a battle-tested team and this will be its toughest battle. It is definitely a winnable game for the Mustangs, but it won’t be an easy one to win.
The Pick: Elizabeth, 56-53