Boys Basketball – NJSIAA Sectional Final Preview: Shore Hits the Road In Search of CJ 1 Title
NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I Championship
Monday, Feb. 27, 2023
At Weequahic High School, Newark
Shore Regional at Eagle Academy, 5:30 p.m.
Head Coach: Erik Mazur
Last Sectional Championship: 2015
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 15 Dunellen, 61-21; No. 7 Florence, 58-43; No. 3 Point Beach, 48-37
Alex George, Jr., 6-1 (13.7 points)
Liam Gajewski, Sr., 6-1 (12.2 points)
Donovan Hughes, Sr., 5-10 (8.6 points)
Brett Sweeney, Sr., 6-1 (6.8 points)
Eagle Academy (24-5)
Head Coach: Semone Morant
Last Sectional Championship: None
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 16 STEM Civics, 82-40; No. 9 South Hunterdon, 51-39; No. 4 Keyport, 51-47
Tae’Jean Wilson, Sr., 6-5 (18.4 points)
Asan Jones, Sr., 6-3 (10.6 points)
Choice Dousuah, Sr., 5-11 (8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds)
Marcus Blount, Sr. (8.4 points)
The gym at Weequahic High School has hosted some big games in its history, but Monday is the first time its current host team will be playing for a championship on its floor. Eagle Academy – an all-boys school that operates as part of Newark Public Schools – started its varsity basketball program in 2017-18 and did not have seniors at its school until the 2018-19 school year. Now in its sixth season, Eagle will make a play for its first championship when it hosts Shore Regional Monday in the Central Jersey Group I final.
Since dropping its third loss in five games back on Jan. 12, the Eagles have gone 16-2 with the two losses each coming by a single point – one to West Side Newark and the other to Science Park. A good chunk of Eagle Academy’s schedule has been against other Newark schools and that has usually been a pretty good recipe in the state tournament over the years – whether it’s East Side, West Side, University, Science Park or Central making a run in the state tournament.
Tae’Jean Wilson is the top scoring threat for the Eagles and Shore Regional will have to deal with the 6-foot-5 swingman while not actually rostering any player on its team with the same size or length. Around Wilson, the Eagles have a solid point guard in Asan Jones who can provide secondary scoring, while role players Choice Dousuah, Marcus Blount and Al-Zakhir Al-Qadir can all contribute to the scoring and play bigger than their heights.
While Eagle Academy lacks size and depth, it managed to battle past a Keyport squad that has some of both those elements on Friday. The Eagles survived 24 points by 6-6 senior Max Judson, held 6-8 sophomore Nas Hart to five points and did not allow any of Keyport’s guards more than seven points in the semifinal win.
Shore has not played the Newark schedule, but the Blue Devils have some similarities to Eagle Academy. They don’t have much size and generally relies on five players for scoring at this stage of the season, although junior Joe Santi has provided some offensive punch from the bench in recent weeks. Shore has had to overcome the injury absence of senior forward Richie Studer off and on this year, but has been able to piece things together thanks to the play of senior starter Ben Levy and Santi off the bench.
While Levy and Santi have delivered in their roles, Shore will go as far as their four-man core takes it. Junior Alex George is the team’s top scoring threat and he will be the closest thing to an interior offensive threat against Eagle, although it will be more in slashing to the basket than camping out near the paint. Seniors Liam Gajewski, Donovan Hughes and Brett Sweeney all operate on the perimeter and are equally dangerous as three-point threats, ball-handlers and distributors.
In recent weeks, Shore has really ratcheted up the competition it has faced and that should serve the Blue Devils well as they prepare for their first home game of the state tournament. They played three straight games against large schools (a large Group III and two Group IV teams) Brick Memorial, Toms River North and Middletown South and went 2-1. The lone loss was on the road against Toms River North, 50-45, in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16, which came after the Blue Devils beat Brick Memorial on the road in the SCT first round. Earlier in the year, Shore also visited Raritan and dropped a three-point game to the 21-3 Rockets.
That schedule has Shore well-prepared to deal with this road challenge and a tough Eagle Academy team. This should probably be considered a toss-up and Shore will have a great chance to win its first sectional championship in eight years. My original pick at the start of the tournament was Eagle Academy and while I’m inclined to stick with my initial picks, Shore has planted some doubt with the way it has played. The Pick: Eagle Academy, 47-45