By Jeremy Schneider | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
LINDEN — As soon as classifications for this season were announced, New Jersey hoops fans had their eye on a possible state tournament showdown between Linden and Newark East Side — a pair of physical public school rivals with a long history in the old Watchung Conference.
The two squads met on Monday, and the showdown lived up to the hype.
Newark East Side mounted a second half comeback and forced overtime. But Linden, No. 5 in the NJ.com Top 20, pulled ahead in the extra session behind free throw shooting from Tavon Jones as the top-seeded Tigers won the NJSIAA/ShopRite North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 title for the fourth straight season with a 62-59 victory.
“They’re Newark kids, they’re well-coached, I think our two programs are very, very similar,” Linden coach Phil Colicchio said. “Did I expect it to come down to the last shot? Yeah, I did.”
The top-seeded Tigers face North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 champion Hackensack in the Group 4 semifinals on Wednesday at the Dunn Center on the campus of Elizabeth High School.
Jones finished with 17 points, including five in overtime, while William Phelps scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half. Tyrese Jenkins paced third-seeded Newark East Side with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Newark East East was not daunted by the roar of the crowd in the Tigers’ Den. In fact, the fans that made the trip from the Ironbound were just as loud. But after things were even early, Linden took control in the third quarter and had a 16-point lead heading to the fourth quarter.
The Red Raider comeback started there, as the Newark East Side defense held Linden without a field goal in the quarter just 2:30 remained in regulation. Jenkins had eight points in the period, half of which came on 4-point play after he was fouled making a 3-pointer with 52.2 seconds left that made it 52-51, Linden. He would be fouled again late and make one of two free throws to send the game to overtime.
But Linden had the upper hand once the game went to an extra session. Jones made four free throws in overtime and had a crucial layup. But Jahid Jenkins hit a 3-pointer in the final minute that made it a one-point game before Phelps dished to Khalief Crawford for a layup to make it a three-point game. Newark East Side got looks at a 3-pointer but couldn’t knock one down.
“We dug in and made plays when we had to. We made them scramble on that last possession,” Colicchio said. “We made that three that they took there to tie it up a difficult shot.”