ELIZABETH, N.J. -- St. Patrick's executed flawlessly in a pivotal fourth quarter surge, pulling away from St. Benedict's for a 74-63 victory on Saturday night at the Ninth Annual Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless Basketball Classic.
The game had all the makings of a barn-burner, with St. Patrick's clinging to a precarious 48-46 lead entering the fourth quarter of play.
Thanks to a 13-2 surge to open the final period, the Celtics took a commanding 61-48 lead with 5:21 remaining in the contest. Jason Patterson, a 5-11 senior shooting guard who has committed to Fairleigh Dickinson, scored nine points in the burst.
Patterson, who led all scorers with 25 points, knocked down a tough three pointer coming off a screen, converted a deflating four point play and hit a pair of free throws to cap the run.
"In the last two games, I had six points and zero points, so tonight, I was due for a big one," Patterson said. "I've been waking up early in the morning with the rest of the guards, doing shooting drills before school, and we wanted to come out and show everybody that St. Benedict's isn't better than us."
While the Celtics were scoring, the Gray Bees hit a dry spell at a most inopportune time. The only points they could muster in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter were a pair of free throws from point guard Bashir Mason (Drexel).
"They got the ball inside well and we lost Patterson a bunch of times in the half court," St. Benedict's Head Coach Danny Hurley said. "We looked fatigued and we couldn't get over the hump, although the effort was good."
"We rushed things from time to time offensively," Hurley continued. "And they did a good job of getting the ball inside and getting good inside/out play."
On the opposite end of the floor, St. Patrick hummed along thanks to solid contributions from senior forward Assad Shakir (eight points, eight rebounds) and impressive 6-8 freshman behemoth Derrick Caracter (14 points, eight rebounds). Villanova bound point guard Mike Nardi (above) was solid, if unspectacular, collecting seven points and six assists in the win.
St. Benedict's, which was coming off a huge victory over Blair Academy on Thursday afternoon, fought an uphill battle all game long against the Celtics. The Gray Bees trailed 14-4 in the first quarter and 24-12 midway through the second quarter, but rallied to deadlock the game at 29 on Mason's three pointer with less than a minute to play in the first half.
The third quarter was a nip and tuck affair, with the teams being separated by no more than four points. Nardi gave the Celtics some momentum entering the final quarter of play when his driving floater gave St. Pat's a 48-46 lead just before the buzzer sounded.
Ominously silent for St. Benedict's were two of its most productive juniors -- 6-8 power forward Stanley Branch and 6-6 swingman Alex Galindo. Each scored just two points in the game, and the lack of production offensively seemed to have a negative spill over into other facets of their games.
"Stanley was bad and played terribly, and he knows that," Hurley acknowledged. "We expected to get a lot more out of both of them, and particularly for Alex, he hasn't had many games like that in Puerto Rico."
Both St. Pat's and St. Benedict's, who are two of Northern New Jersey's top parochial powers, have big rematch games coming up next Saturday, Feb. 1.
St. Patrick will face Blair Academy at the Lehigh Valley Hoop Festival in Pennsylvania. Earlier this month, the Celtics handed Blair its first loss of the 2002-2003 campaign.
St. Benedict's will get a rematch with Our Savior New America of Long Island at the Battle by the Bay in Atlantic City. Last Monday (MLK Day), the Pioneers pounded the Gray Bees in the championship game of the inaugural Flying to the Hoop Tournament in Vandalia, Ohio.
Rivalshoops.com expects to have coverage of both events next weekend, so keep it here for the top coverage of high school basketball on the net.