The unthinkable took place in the NJSIAA Non-Public B state title game for the Friars of St. Anthony.
Just two days after defeating neighboring rival Hudson Catholic, 59-50, in the Non-Public B North final at Rutgers University, the Friars dropped a tough 60-57 decision to Roselle Catholic in the overall state title game in Toms River.
The loss came at the hands of Roselle Catholic, a team who knocked off the Friars in the same title game last year, but the same team that the Friars soundly defeated 80-57, in the regular season in late January.
Legendary St. Anthony Hall of Fame head coach Bob Hurley tried to put his finger on how his team could win by 23 points, then lose with a state title on the line, all in the span of a few weeks.
“It still feels the same,” Hurley said. “About two weeks from now, we’ll get back in the weight room and plan for next year, but right now, this hurts.”
Hurley seemed to place the blame in the hands of the state’s organizing association, the NJSIAA.
“The state [the NJSIAA] didn’t have a level playing field,” Hurley said. “We were up by five with five minutes left and the last five minutes, we made the mistakes of being a tired team. We had momentum, but we made so many mental mistakes and I attribute that to fatigue.”
Hurley mentioned the crazy schedule that the Friars had to endure prior to facing Roselle Catholic.
“It’s unfortunate and it’s unfair,” Hurley said. “We had to play an 8 p.m. game against Hudson Catholic an hour away [at Rutgers], got home around midnight, had to go to school the next day and then play the day after that [in Toms River]. We just didn’t have enough time.”
Meanwhile, Roselle Catholic won its state sectional game on Tuesday night, giving them an additional day to rest and prepare.
“It’s just not enough time,” Hurley said. “We called the state in advance of the game to say that the Non-Public B North team deserved a better shake. We’re dealing with a group of people who have not made one basketball change that has been positive. They have no respect for the sport.”
Hurley was asked how his team could dominate Roselle Catholic in late January and then lose six weeks later.
“It’s weird because I think we caught them at a pretty good time the first time,” Hurley said. “They changed their lineup and got a kid into the lineup in [Matt] Bullock, who became their best player in the state tournament. He was hitting 3’s all over the place and he had been a role player before that. They caused matchup problems. They were harder to guard. They were smaller and more cohesive.”
Hurley said that Roselle Catholic faced the Friars the first time in January, just getting standout Isaiah Briscoe eligible after transferring from St. Benedict’s Prep.
“They didn’t have time to really integrate Briscoe into their lineup the first time,” Hurley said. “They were more comfortable this time.”
Although the Friars’ season ended a win shy of a state championship, Hurley did find some pride in his team.
“We were pleased to get to the state championship game for the fifth year in a row,” Hurley said. “There was a lot of uncertainty from the time the gym situation occurred.”
The Friars were left without a home gym when the floor at the METS Charter school was damaged due to a flood, forcing the Friars to travel all over the place for practice time and home games.
“We needed to have a steady direction and it got us in the end,” Hurley said. “We tried to turn it around, but there wasn’t enough time. We tried to make the most of the circumstances.”
Hurley did praise the play of senior Tarin Smith, who made his college decision know this week. Smith gave a verbal commitment to play at the University of Nebraska and will sign his letter soon.
“Tarin was able to take a tired group of kids into battle every game,” Hurley said. “He gave us a chance to win. The talent of this group wasn’t as good as we’ve had over the last few years, except for his leadership at the point. He took whatever we had and game in and game out, he got those kids to play to their potential.”
Hurley laughed when he was reminded that the late Roddy Maffia, the long-time athletic director at Dickinson, would have been ecstatic to learn that a Friar would be headed to Nebraska. Maffia was perhaps Nebraska’s biggest fan and regularly attended football games and practices.
“For Roddy, this would have been a dream come true,” Hurley said.
Hurley knows that the Friars will recover. The 25-5 record was nothing to sneeze at and they did earn another state sectional crown. Standout players like Markis McDuffie, who has the potential to be one of the best Friars of all time, return.
It’s just that the loss stings – and especially since the rules of basketball seem to change year to year, especially when it comes to transfers like Briscoe.
“I’m actually so confused by the climate of high school basketball in our state now,” Hurley said. “The state seems to have no sense of worrying about it. Kids are moving around all over now. I know it’s horrendous.”
Hurley said that after the loss, he just removed himself from basketball.
“I’ve just shut down completely from high school basketball,” Hurley said. “After a while, you feel the toll working as hard as we did. We needed to work on something all the time. Others had a little more personnel than we had. We just didn’t have the necessary time to prepare for this one.”
Chances are that the Friars will be prepared when the first practice begins next November. It’s just the way Bob Hurley is and has been for more than 40 years. You don’t win 1,100-plus games and 25 state championships without full preparation.