Fans at the Barn Gymnasium on the campus of Rutgers University were treated to an afternoon of exciting high school basketball action, as the Second Annual Eddie Griffin Challenge blew into town. There were future stars in each game, and for the most part they didn't disappoint, but more importantly the kids played hard and had fun in three close contests.
Jimmy Salmon of the New Jersey based Playaz Basketball Club and Charles Monroe of Philly USA came up with the idea last year of pitting the best players in the state of New Jersey against the best players in the Philadelphia area for bragging rights in three age groups. Last year's Eddie Griffin Challenge at Episcopal HS in Philadelphia was so successful that they decided to make it an annual event and alternate the venue each year from Philly to Jersey.
The games this year at the Barn were an absolute treat, and just as exciting and memorable as the games last year.
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Philly Sophomores 85
Jersey Sophomores 97
After a close first quarter of play the New Jersey squad jumped out to a huge lead in the second behind the play of 6-foot-5 Westwood HS forward Corey Raji and 6-foot-3 St. Anthony's PG Miles Beatty.
Philly looked uninspired and Jersey looked hungry early on, and some wondered whether the game would get completely out of control as the home team held a fat 52-29 edge at the break.
However, with pride at stake Philly's second unit held their ground at the beginning of the third quarter, and the starters cut into the lead a bit for a 75-57 Jersey advantage heading into the 4th quarter.
That's when 6-foot-1 St. John Neumann PG Antoine "Scoop" Jardine took over the game for Philly. Jardine's shooting and passing, but most of all his defense led Philly on a 24-13 run to cut the lead to 7 at 88-81 with about 2:30 remaining.
Jersey answered with 6-foot-4 St. Patrick's phenom Jeff Robinson in the closing minutes. Robinson hit two threes and a couple of free throws to put the game out of reach, as the home team cruised to a 97-85 win.
Jeff Robinson finished with 21 points to take home MVP honors for New Jersey. Corey Raji led all scorers with 22 points, while Beatty and 6-foot-5 St. Benedict's forward Corey Stokes chipped-in 10 points apiece.
Antoine Jardine was the MVP for Philadelphia, finishing with 20 points. 6-foot-3 2G Jeff Jones led Philly with 21 points, while 6-foot-7 St. John Neumann center Richard Jackson had 10 points and 6-foot Franklin Learning Center guard Malcolm Eleby added 11.
Philly Juniors 84
Jersey Juniors 77
It once again looked bleak for the visitors early on as Jersey jumped out to a 19-11 first quarter lead behind the aggressive inside play of 6-foot-8 St. Benedict's forward Lance Thomas and 7-foot Haddonfield Memorial center Brian Zoubek. Jersey extended their lead in the second quarter to 30-15, but Philly guards 5-foot-10 Malik Alvin from Simon Gratz HS and 6-foot-1 Derrick Rivera from St. John Neumann helped the visiting team close the half on a 19-8 run to cut the Jersey lead to 4 at 38-34.
At half-time Rivals.com spoke with superb Philly 2G Wayne Ellington's father, and the senior Ellington said, "Watch the second half. Something big is going to happen." Wayne had 3 points at the break.
Little did we know how prophetic dad's words would be as Ellington entered the game mid-way through the third quarter and delivered an absolutely amazing performance. With Philly trailing 42-34, Ellington started the comeback by nailing a three. He then had two acrobatic layups sandwiched around and old-fashioned three point play, and the building could feel something special starting to happen. Ellington assisted on two buckets and buried another three which helped Philly close the quarter on a 24-8 run for a 58-50 lead. Ellington scored 13 points and delivered 2 assists in a little less than 4 third quarter minutes!
The 4th quarter was more of the same with Ellington knocking down 4 more threes, each more impressive than the previous one, to finish with 32 points in just under 16 minutes of action. He also added 5 assists and 2 steals while leading Philly to a come from behind 84-77 win. Wayne Ellington was the obvious choice for Philly MVP. His Episcopal Academy teammate 6-foot-5 G/F Gerald Henderson finished with 13 points, including a couple of monster dunks. Alvin and Rivera both finished with 8 for Philly.
Jersey's MVP was Lance Thomas, who finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Patterson Catholic's 6-foot-5 forward Kimanni Barrett added 15 points, and Bloomfield Tech's 6-foot-6 forward Desean Butler had 10 for Jersey.
Philly Seniors 88
Jersey Seniors 78
In the nightcap the Jersey Seniors followed the pattern by jumping out to a double digit halftime lead. The Rutgers bound trio of 6-foot-8 Gerald Inman from St. Joseph's Montvale, 6-foot-6 Jaron Griffin, and 6-foot-2 Anthony Farmer led the way early to the delight of the partisan crowd. 6-foot-9 NC State recruit Brandon Costner from Seton Hall Prep and recent Connecticut recruit 7-foot center Andrew Bynum from St. Joseph's Metuchen also played well in the first half as Jersey held a 44-34 lead.
Notre Dame bound 6-foot-6 forward Ryan Ayers kept Philly in the game early with his perimeter shooting, but with Jersey holding an 8 point lead at the end of the third quarter, Philly needed someone to step up in the final period. That someone was 6-foot-7 Maryland recruit Shane Clark from Hargrave Military in Virginia. Clark used his length to dominate the glass at both ends and wreak havoc in the passing lanes. But his passing and ballhandling in the open floor are what really broke the game open for Philly.
Clark also got his points, but he made sure guys like 6-foot-4 UTEP recruit Stefon Jackson and Philadelphia Lutheran's 6-foot-5 wing Dionte Christmas got good shots, and that made all the difference as Philly raced to an 88-78 come from behind win.
Shane Clark was the MVP for Philly, finishing with 21 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals. Ayers added 17 points including 3 buckets from beyond the arc, Jackson had 15 points, Christmas had 12, and Rider recruit 6-foot-2 Cheltenham guard Harris Mansell had 11.
Brandon Costner was MVP for Jersey finishing with 15 points and 9 rebounds. 6-foot guard Marquise Jones from South Plainfield HS had 14 points, Griffin had 11, Bynum had 9 points and 11 rebounds, and Inman had 8.