By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — When a runaway train has lost all hope of being able to stop, the best thing to do is just get off the tracks. If you don’t, you’re going to get run over.
The Wildwood Catholic boys basketball team has been steamrolling its way through the Cape-Atlantic League schedule this season — and the league’s postseason tournament — and that train didn’t slow down at all on Saturday at Stockton University in the CAL Tournament championship game. The top-seeded Crusaders raced out to a 20-5 lead before some fans had even found their seats and led 30-10 at halftime, cruising to a thoroughly dominating 70-39 win over No. 2 St. Augustine Prep. The title was Wildwood Catholic’s third straight and fourth overall — most of any team.
“We just played our hearts out. Coach (Dave DeWeese) said we had to play hard and just execute what we were talking about in practice,” said senior and Temple University recruit Jahlil White. “We have five scorers on the floor, so we just have to share the ball. That’s how we’re going to be successful.”
The game wasn’t really close even after the first few minutes, as Wildwood Catholic (20-7) bolted out to an 11-2 lead that featured 3-pointers from Jacob Hopping and Martin Anguelov as well as the first of several dunks by senior University of West Virginia recruit Taj Thweatt. The Crusaders stretched their lead to 18-5 after one quarter, and there wasn’t much the Hermits (21-4) could do against Catholic’s 2-3 matchup zone defense.
“That’s something we love, that 2-3 (zone). Coach loves it also, it make the game easy for us,” White said.
“We came out to a slow start, lost a couple games (earlier this season), so we had to tap back in because we’re trying to win the TOC (Tournament of Champions),” junior guard DaSean Lopez said. “We’ve just come together and have been playing better as a team. It starts with defense, we just try to lock everyone up, don’t let them score. We don’t want anybody to think they can play with us, we want to be on the top all the time.”
Wildwood Catholic spread the wealth in the first half as six players scored and only one, Thweatt, was in double figures with 10 points. St. Augustine Prep made a little bit of a run early in the third quarter, getting a 3-pointer from Matt Delaney and another bucket from Delaney off an assist from sophomore guard Elmarko Jackson to cut the deficit to 35-20, but just as quickly the Crusaders went up 42-22 moments later on a three from Thweatt. The Crusaders led 50-24 after the third quarter, and DeWeese pulled all his starters from the floor with more than five minutes to go in the fourth.
Thweatt, the tournament MVP, finished with 24 points and six rebounds, while White added 17 points and six rebounds and Hopping finished with 10 points. The Crusaders forced the Hermits into 19 turnovers, outscored Prep 40-10 in the paint, got 20 points off the fast break and had 20 assists on 29 made field goals.
“We just swing it around and whoever scores, scores. We play as a team, and if you score, we’re happy. It’s not about you, it’s about the team,” Lopez said. “We’ve just been working. We’re the first team to win four (CAL) titles in history, so it’s a great feeling, but we have to get back to work and get ready for states.”
White said this championship was just a stepping stone, however, for a team that has much bigger goals in mind.
“It’s a great feeling. This is going to be a great memory,” he said. “We can’t wait (for states), we want way more than this. We want the TOC, so we have to keep playing hard.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays