Rutherford, NJ - Bill Mulcahy, a St. Mary assistant, summed this game up best. "Survive and advance." The slogan coined by the late Jim Valvano is more widely used in March. In any tournament situation however it is accepted as appropriate.
On this late December night that certainly applied to the host Gaels as they defeated Dickinson of Jersey City 70-65 in a semifinal of the Jack Stone Shootout. The game at the George Vuyosevich Memorial Gymnasium saw the Gaels remain undefeated at 5-0 while Dickinson is now 4-3.
In the first period St. Mary got out to a two possession lead and hinted at getting separation. Dickinson hung tough and trailed 17-16 at the end of the first. The Gaels showed a 106 offensive efficiency in the first eight minutes, largely due to hitting four three pointers and committing only two turnovers.
The second period was even, ending with St. Mary taking a 32-30 lead into the break. The teams exchanged leads throughout the period, Markeis Isley-Monroe, Dickinson’s 6’5" junior posed problems for the Gaels all night. Isley-Monroe was effective inside and on the perimeter as well. Ram coach Sean Drennan utilized a 2-3 zone with occasional half court trapping of the guards that posed problems for the Gaels.
The first four minutes following the half are crucial says the coaching axiom. Dickinson scored on their first two possessions on the way to a 11-9 ‘first four’ advantage that knotted the game at 41. Once again this was a period where St. Mary tried to make a move and Dickinson answered. Isley-Monroe showed his versatility stepping outside for a few key buckets After three, St.Mary held a 50-48 lead but Dickinson was not going away.
Brian Gaccione’s Gaels opened the final stanza with two three throws and a three pointer to extend the lead to seven. As was the case all night, Dickinson came back and with four-plus minutes to go this contest was tied at 57. As the waning minutes drained off the clock it was imperative that the Gaels needed a key stop. In fact, during a time out with 2:12 to go and the Gaels clinging to a three point lead, Gaccione vocally implored his team in the huddle, "one stop.’ that was the message plain and simple.
The Gaels responded by getting that stop. They began to hold the ball with just under 90 seconds to go and canned two free throws with the Rams in late game fouling mode. Dickinson scored to cut the deficit to three with 53 seconds remaining. They could not draw any closer as Luke Gaccione went four of four from the charity stripe the final 45 seconds to close out a hard fought ticket to the championship game.
Markeis Isley-Monroe scored a game high 24 points. Tomas Monterio added 20 for the Rams. Luke Gaccione led the Gaels with 23 points (four three pointers) , 7 assists and a number of clutch plays. L.J. Falconi contributed a vital 14 point 10 rebound double-double. Victor Torres added 13 points.
‘They (Dickinson) were tough and never let up," Brian Gaccione said post game. "Thank God we shot well from the foul line." The Gaels connected on 17 of 22 from the line for a 77% mark, one many college teams would sign up for in a minute.
Many tournaments call for the consolation and final to be played a day after the semis. The Stone format gives a day off between both. It’s something coach Gaccione looked forward to. "We got to get back in the gym and have a regular practice," he said. "We have things we definitely need to work on." Boxing out on the boards will probably be one of them.
Drennan praised St. Mary as being "good and smart." The Dickinson mentor was pleased with his group’s competitive mindset- allowing them to constantly battle back. "We have tough kids," the coach said. "They are good kids but won’t back down from a challenge. We are basically all juniors. We lost to a good Bayonne team and to Memorial with two kids out with the flu. We are still leaning and coming along. We were there tonight but just could not get over the hump."
In the other semifinal Wayne Hills defeated Paramus 53-46. Friday’s action will see Paramus and Dickinson in the consolation while St. Mary faces Wayne Hills for the championship.