Not only did top-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas make big plays, but they made free throws, which so often can make-or-break a team.
It made the Trojans GMC Red Division champions Tuesday night, as they beat St. Joseph in Metuchen 66-62, in a game heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.
In the pivotal fourth quarter, with the Falcons hanging around longer than most outside their locker room would have given them credit for, Aquinas hit 12-of-12 from the charity stripe.
“Deuce” Jones led the Trojans (15-1) with 16 points, while Jalen Pichardo tallied a double-double of 15 points and 10 boards, his fourth of the season. It was his highest scoring output of the calendar year.
The win clinched the Red Division title outright for Aquinas, which finishes the first go-through of the division schedule – the only one that counts under a one-year pilot program in the GMC Red – with an 8-0 mark.
It was also St. Thomas’ fifth straight division title – the most recent three being in the White Division, and the one before that in the Blue in 2018-19 – and the Trojans’ 54th straight divisional regular season win. They last loss in divisional play was in the Blue on January 26, 2017, by a 70-62 score at Carteret.
Jeremy Clayville had game-high honors and kept his team in it all night, hitting four treys, one from as far away as 27 feet in the second half. Josh Ingram chipped in 14.
The teams exchanged the lead six times in the first half, but never again the rest of the game. Aquinas looked like it might pull away in the second quarter, as it got out to a ten-point lead, the biggest of the game, but the Falcons stayed in it by playing good defense, chipping away to go into the home locker room down 30-27.
And it never got much bigger than a two-possession game in the second half, with Joe’s closing to within one point on several occasions, including 44-43 at the end of the third quarter, and even tying it at 50 with just under five minutes left. But they could never get over the hump.
With 27 seconds left and Joe’s down by four, Clayville’s pass off the inbound in front of his own bench was picked off, and Pitts put his team up by six with a one-handed thunderous jam. Dave Caruso then hit two from the free-throw line to get it back to four, but on the ensuing possession, Clayville got called for a double-dribble.
Jones got fouled after the inbound for Aquinas, and hit both to make it a six-point game with seven seconds left, before Anthony Williams got a tip-in at the buzzer.
Click below for postgame reaction presented by SportsPlex at Metuchen: