The subplot had two of the Garden State's top seniors carrying the offensive load for their respective teams, but it was St. Patrick's Mike Nardi who emerged as the game's MVP in leading the Celtics to a 68-60 victory over Bergen Catholic on Thursday night at the Prime Time Shootout.
Nardi finished with 28 points and three assists, but he was not the game's high scorer. That honor belonged to 6-7 Bergen Catholic (and Memphis bound) senior swingman Sean Banks, who erupted for 34 points in defeat.
Of the two, it was Nardi who was more clutch, sinking critical shots for St. Patrick's to pull away for the win in the fourth quarter.
With Bergen Catholic staked to a 49-44 lead on consecutive baskets by Banks, Nardi and the Celtics went to work, using a 17-4 run to take a 61-53 lead with 1:41 to play. Nardi's three pointer with 5:09 remaining gave St. Pat's the lead for good at 51-49, and he followed it up with another three pointer moments later to boost the lead to 56-51.
A basket by burly 6-4 forward Robert Hines pushed the lead to 59-53, and then Nardi capped the run with a beautifully orchestrated in-bounds play, thanks to a nifty feed from Grant Billmeier, that stretched the Celtic lead to eight.
Nardi capped his fourth quarter performance by hitting four of four free throws to ice the game for St. Pat's.
"Mike has had some fabulous games for us this year, he had 32 against Blair at Blair and he was great in running the team against St. Benedict's," St. Patrick Head Coach Kevin Boyle said. "Today, he needed to score more for us and make big shots, and any time they got a lead on us, Nardi hit some big shots."
Despite the absence of 6-8 freshman prodigy Derrick Caracter (academic suspension), St. Patrick dominated the game on the boards, thanks to the scrappy work of Billmeier (six points, nine rebounds), Hinds (14 points, seven rebounds) and Assad Shakir (11 points, nine rebounds).
Aside from Banks, only 6-7 junior combo forward Adrian Joseph stepped up offensively for the Crusaders. He finished with 16 points and six rebounds, but it wasn't enough to help B.C. knock off St. Pat's.