Boys Basketball – Montverde Machine Chews Up St. Rose at Metro Classic
SOMERSET -- In the nearly-two years he has been his high school coach, St. Rose boys basketball coach Brian Lynch has seen senior Matt Hodge do and accomplish a lot during his rise as one of New Jersey's best players.
In Saturday night's Metro Classic marquee game at Franklin High School, however, Lynch heard something from his star forward he had never heard before.
Hodge asked his coach to take a timeout. He was tired.
One look on the roster opposing St. Rose on this night and it is easy to understand why Hodge and his teammates were so drained before halftime of their 23rd game of the season.
St. Rose won over the capacity crowd by tying Montverde -- the undefeated No. 1 team in the nation -- early in the first quarter, but felt the wrath of the Eagles the rest of the way in a 84-55 loss.
The defeat snaps a 21-game winning streak for St. Rose and provides the Purple Roses at the national standard -- one St. Rose earned a chance to test themselves against after ascending to the No. 1 ranking in New Jersey during the course of the season.
"We were huge longshots to win, so this was coming in trying to challenge ourselves," Lynch said. "Even when you lose like we did, you can look at it and figure out what can we can better at?"
For the first 14 minutes of the game, St. Rose was giving the powerhouse Eagles a test. A three-pointer by junior Bryan Ebeling pulled St. Rose even, 19-19, early in the second quarter and he later drove for a layup that snapped a run of nine straight Montverde points, cutting the deficit to 28-21 with two minutes to go.
From there, the Eagles unleashed a 13-0 run in under two minutes to close out the half and a 22-2 run over the last five-plus minutes to turn a tie game into another rout for the top team in the country.
"There was a moment when (sophomore) Jayden (Hodge) stole the ball and he missed the layup under pressure, but we got the ball back and you could just feel the gym wanting to erupt," Lynch said. "At that moment, I really thought we were standing up to these guys then smack. We hit the wall."
"It was really fast," Matt Hodge said of the Montverde run. "I remember looking up at the clock and it was a two-point game with two-and-a-half minutes left and I was just thinking, 'Let's keep this up for two-and-a-half minutes.' With a team like that, you should know they are going to turn it up. It's a good lesson for us to learn."
The game shifted when Montverde coach Kevin Boyle called timeout after a basket by Queen made it 21-19 and sent his team back to the floor to show St. Rose a three-quarter-court trap for the first time in the game.
Montverde's length, athleticism and their ability to quickly convert turnovers into points, led to runs of 9-0 and 13-0 that seemed like they happened in an instant from the perspective of the St. Rose bench.
"I think we were just shocked at their size and length and how quick they moved," Matt Hodge said of Montverde's defense. "We knew they had all of those things, but watching them execute it and be able to stop us from going where we wanted to go made it really tough."
"If we handled the pressure better and made a few more shots, this could have been a whole different ball game," Lynch said. "They literally trapped and turned us over on every possession there for a stretch and before you know it, it went from down two points to down 17 points in seconds, it felt like."
Although his team lead, 41-21, at halftime, 6-foot-9 Duke commit and top player from the Class of 2024 Cooper Flagg had a relatively quiet first half for Montverde with eight points. Two of those points, though, came on an acrobatic alley-oop slam off a high lob from fellow McDonald's All-America Derik Queen to highlight the 13-0 run.
"They trapped us at the perfect time," Lynch said. "I have never seen Matt look over at me and say, 'Please call timeout. I'm dead.' I don't know if it was the atmosphere, the heat, or just the physical play, but now I'm having to call timeouts just to rest. But it was really fun to see them out there and we're going to learn a lot from it."
Not long before the highlight-reel dunk, a section of the crowd were lobbing "overrated" chants in Flagg's direction as St. Rose mounted the early challenge and gained the homecourt advantage. After his dunk put Montverde ahead, 34-21, Flagg put his hand to his ear while staring down that section of the crowd, as though he was daring them to chant at him again.
"I told our guys, 'Don't poke the bear," Lynch said. "Play really hard, play possession-by-possession and play focused. Don't get into a talking match. Play physical, play with pride, but we don't need to start talking smack.'"
In the second half, Flagg lived up to the billing with 20 points on the way to finishing with 28 on 11-for-14 shooting from the field. Flagg also grabbed seven rebounds, handed out five assists, blocked four shots and swiped three steals.
Queen -- who is unsigned an uncommitted as a senior All-American -- scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out five assists and picked off four steals as well. The 6-10 center dominated the paint against a St. Rose team that did not have the size to match him.
Matt Hodge led St. Rose with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go with four assists and three blocks of his own. Ebeling pitched in 13 points for the Purple Roses, who worked around Queen's early dominance with sharp offensive execution in the half-court and pesky defense on the other end.
"We like to play different styles and that's a style you don't see a lot," Montverde coach and New Jersey native Kevin Boyle said. "A combination of the old CBA (Christian Brothers Academy), Princeton style with their own flair to it. It's challenging, because in today's game you don't see it a lot. I just like playing against different systems like that so we can collectively grow as a team."
While St. Rose's defense caused some early Montverde turnovers, it also saddled St. Rose with crippling foul trouble for one of its top players. Senior Gio Panzini picked up his third foul at the 4:44 mark of the first quarter, his fourth foul before halftime and he fouled out with 5:25 left in the the third quarter. After going scoreless during the first half, the 6-6 Panzini got into the flow of the game with five quick points in the third quarter, but was whistled for his fifth foul shortly thereafter.
"People don't realize how valuable Gio is: his size, his motor, his toughness," Lynch said. "When he went out early, now we're going to an either six-foot-one guard in Tyler (Cameron) or we're going to a six-five freshman who weighs 150 pounds -- (much) different than Gio."
Panzini's early foul trouble forced Lynch to call upon his bench -- sophomore Tyler Cameron and freshman Avery Lynch -- and the Purple Roses held their own with Hodge and Ebeling leading the charge on offense, while sophomore Jayden Hodge and junior Evan Romano were defensive standouts.
"The opportunity to play in a game like this in front of that many people, with the season we're having is just the icing on the cake," Matt Hodge said. "Our guys showed everyone they could play against those guys and could compete."
Under Boyle, Montverde has routinely made the trip to New Jersey to play a top-flight team from the state and this year, it was St. Rose's turn to get its shot. Five years ago, Ranney lost to Montverde, 89-51, before going on to become the first Shore Conference team to ever win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
Boyle led St. Patrick's to five Tournament of Champions titles before taking the job as Monteverde head coach following the 2010-11 season and turning the Eagles into the premier destination for the top players in the country.
"They are a good team," Boyle said of St. Rose. "We have done that to a lot of teams that are nationally-ranked, so this shouldn't change the perception of them. They are very good.
"Coach (Lynch) is doing a good job there. They are getting some good kids and I'm sure there will be more kids that want to go there, so hopefully they can sustain it."
There is no longer a Tournament of Champions for St. Rose to win, but the Purple Roses would like to learn from its loss to Montverde and finish No. 1 in the state, just as Ranney did in 2018-19.
"My biggest disappointment is I don't think we gave them our best shot," Lynch said. "We can play better than this. I'm not mad at them, the effort was there, but I just wish for them they could have had a better performance. But it didn't happen and we're going to learn a lot from this and I couldn't be happier for the kids and the program that we got to play in this game."