Andrew Koob (@AndrewKoob)
For 32 minutes, Neumann-Goretti guard Ja’Quan Newton found himself the subject of double-teams and physical defense against the PE&T Chargers. They did anything they possibly and legally (sometimes illegally) could do to rattle the senior.
The future Miami Hurricane scored a game-high 21 points, including a layup that put him ahead of 2007 Monsignor Bonner graduate Jeff Jones for the Catholic League leading scorer with 1,941 career points, while adding six rebounds and three blocks in the Saints’ 65-53 AAA semifinal win over the Chargers.
“Where I’m from, that’s all we used to do, talk to each other and try and get into the other guy’s head,” Newton said. “When they did it to me, I was used to it so I just talked back. That’s what I’m used to.”
“That was their plan and I’m really, really proud of Ja’Quan for holding his composure,” Saints coach Carl Arrigale said. “They tried right from the start to aggravate him and make him do something back.”
That plan worked in the first half, as the Saints let the Chargers hang around and give them multiple chances to take the lead. The two sides struggle to handle a lead in the first 16 minutes but Neumann finally gained some momentum when Troy Harper was fouled with 2.8 seconds left in the half to give them a four-point cushion.
Neumann then proceeded to go on an 11-0 run to open the second half to build a 15-point lead, spearheaded by Harper’s five points. That onslaught was part of an 18-point quarter where 11 of the Saints’ points came from the charity stripe.
“It’s always our defense,” Arrigale said about his team taking control in the second half. “They came out with a plan, they were going to try and rough the game up a little but, try to get the game sloppy. We got caught up a little bit early with some pushing. We like to play free and easy but we if we have to mix it up, we’ll mix it up.
“They were trying to take us off of our thing but once we got a little bit more composed and we figured it out. We talked about it at halftime and came out and really took control of the game.”
In a game that featured a combined 41 fouls and 58 free throws, composure became a big difference in winning and losing. And that composure translated into converting chances at the free throw line, where the Saints excelled and the Chargers left much to the imagination. Neumann shot 31-of-38 (81.6 percent) from the free throw line, while PE&T only went 8-of-20 (40 percent) from the charity stripe.
This meeting marked the third time the Saints met the Chargers and the third time they came out victorious. But, as the matchups accumulated, PE&T kept knocking down the margin of victory. In the season opener, Neumann bested the Chargers by 30 points. Before embarking on their journey to the state championship, the Saints once again beat the Chargers, but only by 14 that time around.
Now, in a game most didn’t think they could reach, PE&T played the Catholic League champs hard the entire way, especially playing them so physically in the first half.
“They’re tough, they got better as the year went along,” Arrigale said. “This is the third time we played them so they were familiar and I’ve watched them improve from the first game of the year until now. They were a much better team tonight than they were in that first game.”
With a ticket punched to the GIANT Center in Hershey on Friday night, Neumann will be shooting for their fourth state title in five years against Susquehanna Township. Arrigale knows how hard it is to get to this point, especially after winning an emotionally-charged Catholic League title.
“This tournament is hard for us because of the success we’ve had in the Catholic League,” Arrigale said. “It’s a big elation and everything and then to get back is tough. Sometimes it’s tough to get them going. We’re here now, so we have no excuses but it’s a grind. It seems like it takes forever to get to this last game of the tournament and it’s really two games a week after that first week. That first week throws everything off. It’s really hard tournament, it’s a grind. We haven’t been to the Hershey one yet, so it’s a whole new experience for us as well.”