By Ella Brockway
SSN Correspondent

LITTLE SILVER - Mater Dei head coach Ben Gamble did not panic as he watched his team’s lead, which had at one point been 14, shrink to one as the opposing Sayreville Bombers staged a comeback with 7:16 left in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Buc Classic championship game.

He had a strategy, and less than a minute later, when junior guard Kenny Jones converted a steal into a layup that kicked off a 15-2 Seraphs run, he knew it was working.

“My main objective, because I’ve got so much depth, was to try to wear them [Sayreville] out,” said Gamble. “That took all the energy out of them [Sayreville], and I still had a lot of guys left that were fresh and that I could throw in there. There was no need to panic because we just needed one play to get us going again.”

The top-seeded Seraphs (5-0) took home the 2016 Albert E. Martin Buc Holiday Classic championship Friday night with a 55-40 win over Sayreville (4-1). Senior forward and Princeton commit Elijah Barnes led all scorers with 18 points in addition to 8 rebounds and 2 assists.

The Seraphs’ depth and their defense were their best weapons all night. The five players who came off the bench combined for 18 points and six rebounds; senior guard Marvin Pierre led the bench scorers with six. The Seraphs also collected 21 rebounds as a team compared to Sayreville’s 13, and tallied eight steals.

“We got the pressure up like we always do, and it’s all about defense with us,” said Elijah Barnes. “Coach Gamble preaches to us that we’re a team and we’re all together. Anyone’s [number] on this bench could be called, and everyone did their job today.”

Both teams opened the first quarter with competitive full-court press defenses and the Seraphs took an early 12-8 lead to close the quarter. Barnes scored six of his 18 in the first.

Mater Dei continued to build its lead early in the second quarter, and the Seraphs were up by a score of 22-9 with 3:19 left in the first half when the Bombers called a timeout to set up their plans to break the press and put more points on the board by halftime. Sayreville senior guard Henderson Mautes scored six of his 10 total points on three-pointers at the end of the second quarter to bring the Bombers within nine at a score of 30-21 heading into halftime.

The Seraphs were caught up in foul trouble early in the third quarter, with five team fouls on the board with 3:11 to go in the quarter and their lead cut to 32-28. A total of 38 fouls were called overall on the two teams; the Seraphs shot 52 percent (10-for-19) from the free throw line while Sayreville only hit 10 of its 24 attempts. Mater Dei took a 34-30 lead to the fourth quarter.

Senior guard Ryan O’Leary opened the fourth quarter with a 3-point play to make it 34-33, pulling the Bombers within one of the Seraphs. O’Leary had a team-high of 11 points on the night. But Kenny Jones stepped in for Mater Dei just a few plays later, and turned his fourth steal of the night into two points at the 6:58 mark to give the Seraphs a 36-33 lead.

“Kenny has a very high basketball IQ for a young guard,” said Gamble. “We pretty much go where he goes, because he’s our general, so even with their [Sayreville’s] rally, we still got it going with him.”

The Seraphs took over late in the fourth quarter to go on a 21-7 run to close the game. Barnes scored eight of his 18 in the fourth and had a pair of emphatic dunks at the 4:26 and 2:44 marks.

“We have a really well-rounded team, and they had a great shot blocker [senior forward Jahsim Floyd, who had three rebounds and four blocks], so we knew we had to spread it out so we could get open driving lanes,” said Barnes. “Once we had those open driving lanes they had to pack it in, and with the great shooters that we had, that led to great shots.”

The Seraphs head into the new year with an undefeated record and a tournament championship under their belts, but face a tough schedule that includes games against Union Catholic, the Patrick School, St. Rose and the highly-touted matchup with divisional rival Ranney in the first two weeks of January.

“This was the first real challenge that we had so far during the season,” said Gamble. “It was the first time that we lost our poise, and this can only help us down the road.”


Albert E. Martin Buc Classic Awards

Tournament MVP: Elijah Barnes, Mater Dei Prep

All-Tournament Team

Ryan O'Leary, Sayreville

Kenny Jones, Mater Dei Prep

Sky Cherry, Middletown North

Maks Gruszecki, Central

Devin Cooper, Red Bank