ABSECON — The Patrick School and St. Augustine Prep met in a high school boys basketball game Sunday night.
It evolved into a staring contest.
The Patrick School, the state’s consensus No. 1 team, won both.
The Celtics held the ball for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and beat St. Augustine 53-44 in a Seagull Classic game at Holy Spirit.
Zarique Nutter scored 18 points for The Patrick School, while guards Elmarko Jackson (11 points) and Kevin Foreman (10 points) led the Hermits. The Patrick School played without standout forward Jonathan Kuminga, who was out with an ankle injury.
“I thought we played them as well as we could play them,” Hermits coach Paul Rodio said. “Give them credit. They executed what they wanted to run, but I thought we played them toe to toe.”
But after the game, the topic of conversation was The Patrick School’s decision to hold the ball for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter with a 45-41 lead.
Nutter stood at half-court with the ball on his hip while the Hermits stayed in their zone defense, which had given The Patrick School trouble. The Celtics finished the game of 4 of 15 from 3-point range.
“They spread us out on defense (throughout the game). We’re bigger. It’s harder for us to guard them,” Patrick School coach Chris Chavannes said. “I thought, ‘Let’s give them a dose of their own medicine: Spread them out and force them to come out and guard us.’ They shortened the game. But a four-point lead in a tight ... game is a large lead.”
The fans booed and grumbled. There is no shot clock in New Jersey high school basketball.
Rodio was fine with the Celtics’ decision.
“I thought it helped us,” he said. “We were trying to shorten the game. ... We turned it into a three-minute game.”
With three minutes left, the Hermits switched from a zone to a man-to-man defense to force the action. The Celtics committed two straight turnovers. But St. Augustine could not take advantage.
Finally, Celtics forward Muhammed Sow (12 points, eight rebounds) converted a steal into a breakaway dunk to put his team up 47-41 with 1:21 left.
Nutter followed the dunk with two foul shots with 1:18 left to push the lead to eight. The Hermits never again had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
The Seagull Classic, which concluded Sunday, featured several of the state’s top teams and players. Fans filled Spirit’s gym for Sunday’s game. The game was paused for a few moments before the start of the fourth quarter to allow fans a chance to find seats.
St. Augustine (4-2) is ranked No. 7 in The Press Elite 11. The Patrick School (7-2) is one of the state’s elite programs. The 6-foot-8 Kuminga is the consensus No. 1 player in the nation in the class of 2021.
He rolled his ankle in Friday night’s 71-56 loss to Sierra Canyon of California. That game was played in Minnesota, giving The Patrick School the itinerary of an NBA team this weekend.
Sunday’s game was played at a quick pace from the start.
The Patrick School grabbed the momentum in the final 3:13 of the third quarter.
The Celtics closed the quarter with an 8-0 run to take a four-point lead. Sow had two dunks during that stretch.
The way The Patrick School ended the third made its decision to hold the ball curious. But the strategy worked. After the stall, The Patrick School outscored the Hermits 8-3.
“It got a little scary,” Chavannes said. “I was rolling the dice, but I thought it worked to our advantage.”
St. Augustine 16 15 10 3 — 44
Patrick School 19 13 13 8 – 53
SA – Foreman 10, Palek 9, Jackson 11, Horner 5, Delaney 7, Leo 2
PS – Johnson 6, Nutter 18, Jiao 4, Farrakhan 4, Johnson 6, Sow 12, Parsons 3