Falcons head coach Jan Cocoziello has said more than once this season something to the effect of: “People forget, this isn’t your Karl Towns St. Joe’s.”
And he’s not wrong, of course. Talented as they are, there certainly is no one the caliber of Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Few teams have anyone like that.
But shades of that era – when the Falcons went to back-to-back Tournaments of Champions, and won it all in 2014 after reaching the finals in 2013 – are creeping back into the minds of fans, and likely for the first time into the minds of the Falcon Flock, the loud boisterous student section, even though the oldest of them would have been just nine years old when Towns shook the rims at the Maglio Gymnasium.
The 2022-23 campaign got off to a slow start in the ’22 part of the schedule, by St. Joe’s standards. They lost Game 3 to new Red Division member Colonia – up from the White – by five, then were shocked at home the day after Christmas by South River in Metuchen, 74-66, to send them into the New Year at 3-2.
But Cocoziello’s squad would challenge itself the rest of the way, with games against the likes of Linden and Seton Hall Prep out of conference, get swept two games by St. Thomas Aquinas, but avenge their December loss to Colonia.
They would also beat Rutgers Prep on February second, the top team in Somerset County at that point, 73-61 in Somerset, a sign this team could be turning the proverbial corner. Just over three weeks later, it proved to be an omen, as Joe’s again topped the Argonauts, this time at home, back on Monday in the Non-Public South A semifinals.
And the 70-66 win came in the most dramatic of ways. The Falcons trailed 21-9 after one quarter. But they chipped away, cutting the deficit to nine at halftime, and three at the end of the third quarter. The gym was jumping the entire second half.
Now, 6th-seed St. Joseph-Metuchen (18-10) takes on fifth-seed Union Catholic (19-9) in the Non-Public South A Championship Game down in South Jersey. Game time is 7 pm at Lenape High School in Medford Lakes. Central Jersey Sports Radio will have complete postgame coverage after the game is over.
The contest will be a rematch of a late January meeting in Scotch Plains, where the Falcons won 60-55 behind 20 points from team leader Josh Ingram, who also had seven rebounds and dished out four assists.
But one key difference from that game will be a new player added to the mix for UC: Chimeziri Okeoma, who wouldn’t become eligible for four more days after the first meeting with Joe’s. All he;s done in a dozen games since sitting due to transfer rules is score 18.9 points per game, while scoring 43 combined in the last two, with wins over Paul VI in the quarterfinals, then top-seed Camden Catholic by eight in the semis.
Then again, Joe’s also missed shooter and creator Jeremy Clayville in that first matchup, who’d been injured and just played his first game back on Monday, chipping in seven points to the effort.
But in the last game, Joe’s also got a huge contribution from Anthony Williams, a senior forward who has stepped in Clayville’s absence, but even with him back in the lineup, led all scorers in Monday night’s game, with 24 points.
Tonight’s South A winner will face the North A winner on Friday night at 5 pm in the Non-Public Group A Championship Game at Jersey Mike’s Arena at Rutgers University in Piscataway. The North A final features 5-seed Bergen Catholic – the defending champ, which beat Rutgers Prep in the Group A final last year at Rutgers – taking on 3rd-seed St. Peter’s Prep out of Jersey City.