By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — When it comes to post-game interviews with the media, basketball coaches everywhere have some tried-and-true lines they love to trot out in front of the microphone: “We treat everybody we play the same way” or “this is just like any other game” or even the classic “we’re just taking it one game at a time.”
After a 76-51 dismantling of previously unbeaten St. Augustine Prep — and having stopped the Hermits’ 19-game winning streak that dated back to last season — Egg Harbor Township boys basketball coach Cameron Bell wasn’t about to ramble off some tired cliches. He said exactly what was on his mind after scoring the first victory of his EHT career over Prep and legendary coach Paul Rodio.
“I’m not going to give you any cliches. We wanted this game,” Bell said. “I’ve never beaten them in my career and coach Rodio is a mentor of mine. I’m just proud of the boys’ effort. This means a lot to us. It means a whole lot to us, but there’s still a lot more basketball to play.”
After St. Augustine Prep (17-1, 10-0 Cape-Atlantic League National) took a quick 2-0 lead by scoring off the opening tip, EHT (18-2, 11-0 CAL United) answered with a 3-pointer from star senior guard Carlos Lopez. That was a harbinger of things to come. With 3:20 left in the opening quarter, Lopez nailed another 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 10-6 lead, and that sparked an 8-0 run that pushed the lead out to 15-6. After another three from Lopez — who finished with a game-high 25 points — and a putback by Jay-Nelly Reyes, the Eagles boasted a 20-8 lead, and by the end of the first frame EHT led 22-10.
“I felt like as soon as I made that first three we were going to win this game. I always tell my teammates that if I make my first three, just give me the ball because after that I feel like I can make any shot,” Lopez said. “We just felt like we wanted to leave it all on the floor tonight. This was really the game to prove that we’re the best in the CAL, we just had to make that statement, and this was it. I trust in all my teammates and when we step on the floor we know what we have to do to win. I feel like we made a huge statement. I don’t remember the last time EHT beat Prep.”
Said Bell, of Lopez, “when he made that first shot — you can always tell with him, when that first shot goes in — I was like, ‘OK, he has it rolling. We’re going to be tough to beat tonight.’”
Tough to beat was an understatement. Prep got some very good performances, including 14 points and six rebounds from Elijah Brown and 12 points and three assists from point guard Semaj Bethea, but it wasn’t nearly enough as EHT showed the kind of unselfish ball handling and passing ability that has made the Eagles one of the elite teams in South Jersey the past two seasons. Every time the Hermits even got a little bit close, EHT answered. Matt Houser hit a three early in the second quarter to pull Prep within 26-15, but just as quickly Lopez hit another long-range shot. A few minutes later, Isaiah Glenn hit a 3-pointer and the lead was 34-19.
“They are high school kids, everybody wants their name in lights, everybody wants to score, and it can be hard to get young players to trust in that we want to get the best shot. It wasn’t hard tonight. They understood the mission,” Bell said. “It sounds cliché, it sounds like Ted Lasso, but they love each other and they believe in each other. It’s real. It’s legit.”
“A win like this definitely compliments all the hard work we’ve put in the last couple of years. It wasn’t easy at all, but we’ve all bonded into the winning aspect, we put our pride to the side and just played basketball. Coach Bell always says to pass up a good shot for a great shot, and he’s really preached that to us. In practice we execute, and in the game we stick to the game plan,” said Glenn, who finished with eight points despite battling through some foul trouble. “We wanted to get the game under control from the beginning. Once we got the lead we wanted to continue to build on it. Coach Bell always says to build the lead because we let a couple teams back into it when we’ve had big leads and we knew we couldn’t do that against Prep because they are a very good team.”
EHT effectively put the game on ice late in the third quarter when Anthony Colon dished to Aaron Bullock on a fast break, and Bullock slammed home a dunk to give the Eagles a 49-32 lead. Colon followed up a 16-point performance on Monday against St. Joseph Academy with a monster game against Prep, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds, four assists, four blocked shots and a pair of steals.
“He played well and he showed all parts of his game,” Lopez said of Colon. “He was hitting jump shots and I didn’t even know he had that in him. He played amazing tonight.”
Added Glenn, “that kid is very talented and he has heart. He comes to play every night, whether it’s practice or a game. We knew he could be this kind of player. We knew he would reach his maximum potential, for sure.”
Now it’s on to Holy Spirit on Friday night for EHT, as well as a big weekend matchup against Westampton Tech. The win over St. Augustine likely will give the Eagles the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Cape-Atlantic League Tournament as well.
“This helps solidify the confidence they already have,” Bell said. “They have a lot of confidence, but to do it on this stage really helps. Now we can get locked in. We have Spirit on Friday and we go up to Paul VI to play Westampton Tech on Sunday, then we have hopefully a CAL Tournament and South Jersey Group 4 run.”
Said Glenn, “we’re going to go into the locker room and celebrate this win, for sure, but tomorrow we’ll be right back at it in practice because we have Spirit coming up on Friday. We want to lock in on Friday and keep winning.”
What’s next: EHT hosts Holy Spirit on Friday at 5:30 p.m. St. Augustine Prep travels to Pleasantville on Friday at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays