By Jimmy Allinder
There was no argument about which high school boys basketball team deserved the top seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament.
Among the five losses Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen (16-5) has absorbed, three have been to nationally ranked teams outside New Jersey. The other two have been to in-state powers Gill-St. Bernard’s School and Immaculate Conception High School, although the 51-49 defeat Feb. 14 to the Montclair school might be considered an upset.
Within the friendly confines of the GMC, however, the Falcons are unscathed (12-0), have clinched the Red Division championship and have prevailed by an average margin of 26.4 points per game. Even so, St. Joe’s was the top seed a year ago but fell to Colonia High School, 54-38, in the title game at Rutgers University, which broke a streak of five years the Falcons won the championship.
If St. Joe’s is to reclaim the crown, it will do so at a different venue since the tournament committee opted to move the Feb. 25 boys and girls finals to Kean University. Following play-in games Feb. 13, preliminary-round contests were held at the higher seed’s court Feb. 16 and first-round games will be Feb. 18, also at the higher seed’s site. All four quarterfinal contests will be staged in an all-day extravaganza Feb. 21 at New Brunswick High School, and the semifinals will be Feb. 23 at South Brunswick High School.
St. Joe’s is led by seniors Tyus Battle (19.4 points per game) and Breein Tyree (16.4 points per game), who also leads the team with 49 steals. Battle has also demonstrated his versatility by leading the team in rebounding (7.2 per game), assists (78) and blocks (28).
Other key contributions have come from sophomore Alanzo Frink (9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game) and senior Branislav Vujadinovic (eight points per game).
St. Joe’s awaits the winner of the preliminary-round game between 16th-seed Bishop George Ahr High School (8-8) and 17th-seed Carteret High School before it plays a first-round game.
J.P. Stevens High School (12-7) is the 10th seed and hosted South Amboy High School (23rd seed) in the preliminary round Feb. 16. Although the Hawks are not among the tournament favorites, they are assured of finishing this season with their first winning campaign since 2007.
Seniors Mike Lionikis (14.5 points per game) and Alex Corrigan (12.2 points per game) and junior Javon Scott (8.1 rebounds a game) have been the statistical leaders. With a victory over South Amboy, J.P. Stevens would advance to a first-round match with Old Bridge High School (seventh seed).
In the other preliminary tournament game involving an area boys team, 21st-seed Edison High School (5-18) met 12th-seed Piscataway Township High School Feb. 16. Metuchen High School (27th seed) was eliminated in a play-in game Feb. 13 by 22nd-seed East Brunswick Vocational Technical High School, 51-43.
GMC Girls Basketball Tournament
The girls tournament is being held concurrently with the boys tournament, but which team is favored is a different story. As many as seven teams, including Bishop Ahr (sixth seed) and J.P. Stevens (seventh seed), hope to mount a serious challenge for the championship.
The Trojans (14-7) were mired in a midseason slump when they lost four of five games in a one-week stretch. However, Bishop Ahr rebounded with an impressive victory over top-seeded Monroe Township High School, 50-49, Feb. 9. It was only the Falcons’ second loss (17-2) and gave the Trojans a boost in their confidence. They began the tournament with a first-round game Feb. 17 against the winner of the preliminary-round game between 11th-seed Woodbridge High School and 22nd-seed Highland Park High School.
If Bishop Ahr is to make a run at the championship, seniors Jenna Harsh (15.5 points per game) and Lauren Barlow (15.3 points per game) will play large roles. However, the Trojans are most effective when the entire rotation is involved. Sophomore center Sarah Decker (eight rebounds and 7.5 points per game) and juniors Elle Cimilluca (108 assists and 42 steals) and Brianna Jackson have been major contributors throughout the season.
J.P. Stevens has rattled off seven victories in its last eight games and, like the Hawks’ boys, has assured itself of the program’s first winning season since 2007. The Hawks play their initial tournament game Feb. 17 in the first round when they host the winner of the preliminary game between 10th-seed Middlesex High School and 23rd-seed South Amboy.
In other preliminary-round games Feb. 15, ninth-seed Edison hosted 25th-seed Timothy Christian School and 15th-seed Metuchen hosted 18th-seed Colonia.