For five years, Archbishop Carroll has been unable to vanquish the albatross of Neumann-Goretti. The Saints, meanwhile, are one win away from a sixth straight Catholic League title. It was the same story Wednesday night when the Saints booked a 67-62 win over the Patriots at the Palestra in the Catholic League semis. A few extra points:
– The final score may have shown a five-point difference, but trust me when I say that Lamarr Kimble’s drive to the hoop that put the Saints up 56-46 with four minutes to go effectively sealed the game. Though the Patriots got as close as four on a couple of occasions late, you never got the feeling that they were going to close the gap.
– The main thrust of the game story was the abundance of weapons Neumann-Goretti possesses, and the one that beat Carroll Wednesday was a somewhat unlikely selection from the arsenal: Their 3-point shooting. They were 8-for-13, all attempted in the first three quarters plus two possessions. Vaughn Covington knocked one down on the first possession of the game, which seemed to set the tone, eventually forcing the Patriots out of the triangle-and-2 defense. Covington hit all three of his attempts, Ja’Quan Newton nailed two, and Quade Green, Kimble and Troy Harper drained one each. Kimble said afterward that teams underestimate the Saints’ ability to shoot. They may think twice about trying to negate the drives to the basket with the zone.
– There’s no two ways about it: Ja’Quan Newton is a stud. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given his commitment to Miami, but he has such a tremendous killer instinct. He was limited to eight points through three quarters, and you knew that he was due to take over in the fourth. He did, with two sensational drives to the hoop with acrobatic finishes and a dunk over Samir Taylor that turned into a three-point play. It’s one thing to be skilled, but it’s a completely different issue to inflict your will on games when your team needs you most, and that’s what Newton has a preternatural ability to do. Despite being pretty well contained by Taylor and David Beatty early, he didn’t get frustrated, didn’t force shots and continued to play within the offense, penetrating into the zone and kicking out or working for his teammates. That’s what a star does.
– Speaking of superstars, Carroll again got very little from their Division I headliner. Derrick Jones’ line: 3-for-13 from the field, 11 points. He entered the fourth quarter 3-for-10 from the field with six points. He just wasn’t in the game. He picked up two first-half fouls on the offensive end, then was whistled for a third hedging a screen 28 feet from his basket. I don’t know if the physicality of Syracuse-bound tight end Jamal Custis – a couple of inches shorter than Jones but a much wider body – intimidated him from his usual activity in the lane. But for a second time this season against Neumann-Goretti, Jones has been ghostly.
– Carroll coach Paul Romanczuk found himself between a rock and a hard place in the fourth quarter. The Patriots’ best player Wednesday was Ernest Aflakpui, who was a monster on the boards and made seven of his first eight shots. But then in the fourth quarter, Neumann-Goretti went small with four guards and long-but-lean forward Tony Toplyn or five guards altogether. And Romanczuk was faced with a decision: Sit Aflakpui and minimize the defensive mismatch, or play him and try to exploit a mismatch. He opted for the former. The reasoning was as much about pace as personnel, with the Patriots forced to push the ball, press and chase once the Saints made their run. But to me, there had to be opportunities for Aflakpui in the halfcourt, before Neumann pushed the game to a frenetic pace, which clearly didn’t suit Carroll. Aflakpui was so dominant that the Saints didn’t have an answer for him if fronting didn’t work and was almost automatic through three quarters when he got touches. And Carroll allowed that element to be taken from the game.
– After Austin Tilghman fouled out with just under three minutes left, it bears mention that Taylor (12 points, eight in the fourth quarter) and Beatty (five of his seven in the fourth) did a good job of getting to the rim, however haphazard and ragged the pace had become.