With March madness in full effect, and local teams out of concession (unless you consider Connecticut local), we focus on two high-school local stories. Shabazz women continues to amaze with an improved to 6-0 all time record in T of C final games and tied St. John Vianney for the most overall T of C titles with six on Monday at the NJSIAA/ShopRite girls basketball Tournament of Champions at Sun National Bank Center in Trenton.
Shabazz now has a four-game T of C winning steak after losing four straight semifinal games from 2009-2012, and remains unbeaten against New Jersey opponents during the past two seasons, winning all 58 in-state games.
The Newark school holds a 66-2 overall record during that stretch after losing just once this season, to Salesian of California in a December tournament.
• Manasquan scored 12 points on the fast break in the final and had 15 points off of turnovers, but Shabazz had a big advantage in the paint, scoring 40 points there, including 16 points of second-chance opportunities. Shabazz out-rebounded Manasquan, 42-29.
Shabazz also had a .511 field goal percentage, while Manasquan shot only .283 from the field. The teams were even in reserve scoring, with each side getting 11 points from its bench.
• Despite the loss, Manasquan junior Marina Mabrey has a career record of 21-2 in state tournament games, including a 4-2 mark in T of C games.
1-Ivana Negron (Jr. G 5-9 6.2 ppg.)
4-Doniyah Cliney (Sr. G 6-0 13.2 ppg.)
11-Acestra Robinson (Jr. G 5-2 4.9 ppg.)
21-Zaire O’Neil (Sr. F 6-0 15.6 ppg.)
23-De’Ashia Jones (Sr. F 6-1 11.4 ppg.)
5-Briana Franklin (Sr. G 5-10)
10-Kayleen Ocasio (So. G 5-6)
12-Robin Engleman (Jr. F 5-8)
15-Rukiyah Abdullah (Sr. G 5-5)
20-Syonah Williams (Sr. C 6-3)
24-Sierra Anderson (Jr. G 5-7)
32-Altiliyah Butler (Sr. F 5-11)
33-Naquaisha Rattray (Sr. F 6-2)
Coach: Vanessa Watson, 32nd season (719-107)
MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15 power ranking: No. 1
MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 20 ranking: No. 1
MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15 pre-season power ranking: No. 1
Points per game: 64.5
Points allowed per game: 40.4
Winning streak: 31 since 67-56 loss to Salesian of California
Road to Group 1 state title: defeated Arts (63-31), Bloomfield Tech (74-38); New Providence (56-34); Midland Park (78-46) and Haddon Twp. (80-49).
Road to TOC final: defeated St. Rose (53-44).
Keys for Shabazz
Go out in style. It would be only fitting for Zaire O’Neil and De’Ashia Jones. In 2004, it was a pair of Shabazz seniors – Matee Ajavon and Greedy Williams – who helped the Bulldogs become the first and only squad to win back-to-back TOC titles. O’Neil and Jones, who entered the program together four years ago and have a chemistry on the floor polished over time, could bid a fond farewell and etch their names in the rich Brick City hoops tradition by duplicating the feat. A year ago, Jones pumped in a team-high 20 and O’Neil dropped in 16 to pace the Shabazz past Rancocas Valley, 66-54, for the TOC title. Don’t be surprised to see their magical interior bond be the point of emphasis in their final game for Shabazz.
Added incentive. Speaking of history, a win would tie Shabazz with St. John Vianney for the most TOC trophies. Shabazz already owns five, one shy of the Lady Lancers’ total haul.
Keep in contact. Shabazz can’t lose defensive proximity to Marina Mabrey. Whether it comes out in man to man or a matchup zone, the mission is still the same – to make her access to the basket as difficult as possible. However, it has to accept the inevitable that she’s going to make some appearances inside, translated into a need for heady contesting on the drive without absorbing the costly penalty of picking up fouls.
Explore the depth. One thing coach Vanessa Watson has done during the post season is introduce her reserves to quality minutes, getting them acquainted with the state-tournament climate. That’s no coincidence; just the sign of a veteran coach getting backups acclimated so when called upon in games of this magnitude, perhaps the nerves are a little more settled.
Hit the gas. Doniyah Cliney has exceptional burst off the dribble to evade defenders and get to the rim. Her penetration will be essential to the offensive scheme and a key that could unlock Ivana Negron’s 3-point touch.
X-factor. Rukiyah Abdullah. The 5-5 senior guard is flushed with confidence, showing as much on her long-range jumpers as she does handling the basketball under pressure. If Manasquan wants to play off her to front the post, she’ll have no problem reminding it why that might not be such a good idea.
This final marks just the 11th time in the 26-year history of the event that the top two seeds have advanced to decide the TOC champ. The outcome has been completely lopsided with the top-seeded boasting an impeccable 10-0 record in such encounters.
The championship is the first time since 1999 that the winners of the last two TOC will meet in the season finale. That season, defending champion Mendham bowed to St. John Vianney, which won it all in 1997, 62-53.
Newark (six), where Shabazz resides, and the Shore Conference (10), which Manasquan will represent, have combined to win 16 TOC titles.