By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — This week, the Egg Harbor Township boys basketball team faces its toughest test before the postseason begins — games against three of the top Non-Public teams in the Cape-Atlantic League on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The toughest of those being at home on Wednesday against undefeated St. Augustine Prep (16-0). And if the Eagles needed any more confidence than what they’d already been playing with to this point in the season, the got that and more on Monday night with a come-from-behind, 68-62 win over St. Joseph Academy.
The Wildcats (13-5, 7-4 CAL United) jumped out to a 32-26 lead late in the first half, but somehow EHT (17-2, 11-1 CAL United) rallied to take a 33-32 lead into the break. Then, EHT outscored St. Joe 21-8 in the third quarter and hung on down the stretch as the Cats fought valiantly to get within striking distance in the final few minutes.
Ja’son Prevard was on fire for St. Joseph Academy in the first half, scoring 13 points, including nine in the first quarter, to help the Wildcats build a 19-13 lead. But the third quarter was a different story. EHT went to a zone defense to try to neutralize Prevard’s ability to drive to the basket, and the Eagles also got a huge lift from forward Anthony Colon. He scored the first seven points of the second half to help EHT build a 40-32 lead. The advantage reached as high as 60-48 with about three minutes to go before the Wildcats mounted a huge rally to get to within 64-60, but Lopez and Colon hit their free throws down the stretch to ice the win.
“I started out kind of slowly in the first half but I knew my teammates needed me. D.J. was a little bit injured so I knew I had to step it up. Anytime they need me to step up, I always step up and do better. I was suffering through a tailbone injury earlier in the season and coach wanted me to take it slowly, but once our game with Westfield (61-57 loss Jan. 15) happened I’ve been ready to go. I’m comfortable on the court with my brothers,” said Colon. “All of us were really talking and we wanted to go to a 2-3 (zone) because we know they like to drive in. We figured if we went to a 2-3 we could stop them from penetrating, and you saw (in the second half) none of them came to the basket, all they did was shoot. We stopped their attacks to the basket. We executed the game plan perfectly.”
“Prevard was having a great game,” Lopez said. “We were supposed to force him to shoot, and he made a couple of threes, so we went into the zone to try to get him out of his game, and that worked for us.”
Quani Bowens was a big reason why the Wildcats made it close down the stretch, as he scored on a runout to cut the deficit to 6-55 and then, with 1:39 remaining, he nailed a 3-pointer that got St. Joe to within 62-58. Bowens, who finished with 15 points, then scored on a driving layup with 22.5 seconds to go, cutting EHT’s lead to 65-62. St. Joe was forced to foul, and with 10.9 seconds left Lopez hit a pair of free throws to make it 67-62. Colon then finished things off by going 1-for-2 from the line with a few ticks left.
“Our confidence level is at an all-time high. We feel like we can compete with anybody, and as long as we are all locked in, we can go far,” Lopez said.
The Eagles should feel confident. They were able to bounced back from a tough 56-54 loss to Moorestown over the weekend and have the CAL’s leading scorer in Lopez. He scored a game-high 25 points, including 14 in the second and third quarters combined. Four of his five field goals during that stretch were 3-pointers.
“This is just another day for him,” Colon said of his teammate. “I’m with this guy 24/7 and I know how he is — he works hard. That’s my brother right there and he’s going to keep doing what he does.”
“I felt like this was any other game and I came into as confident as I would if we were playing anybody else. I feel like I had a bad game against Moorestown and this was a bounce-back game,” Lopez added.
EHT now turns its attention to St. Augustine Prep on Wednesday night then Holy Spirit on Friday night, both games at home. The Eagles then close out the regular season on Sunday against Westampton Tech. Their game against Prep on Wednesday likely will decide which team is the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Cape-Atlantic League Tournament.
“We’re taking practice very seriously because we knew we had the top three in the CAL coming up (this week) and we have to make a statement,” Colon said. “We’ll also have teams like Lenape or Cherokee we might see in the playoffs, so all we’re doing is focusing in right now and showing that we’re still the underdogs.”
Added Lopez, “we’re really excited for Wednesday night. It’s a big game for both of us, it could be for the No. 1 seed in the CAL (Tournament), so we’ll see how it goes.”
What’s next: EHT hosts St. Augustine Prep on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. St. Joseph Academy travels to Camden Catholic on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays