CAL Playoffs: Wildwood Catholic Pulls Away from St. Joe’s to Advance
Basketball rims around South Jersey must be wondering collectively what they ever did to make Wildwood Catholic forward Taj Thweatt angry.
The University of West Virginia commit has been throwing down dunks all winter, and he abused the rims at Absegami High School on Wednesday night in the Cape-Atlantic League semifinals with at least a half-dozen slam dunks — most of which were of the make-the-other-team’s-student-cheering-section-cringe variety. The rangy, powerful senior finished with a game-high 25 points while adding 12 rebounds, and even more highlight-reel acrobatics to add to his Hudl account as the top-seeded Crusaders powered their way past No. 5 St. Joseph, 61-47.
Thweatt and his teammates will take on No. 2 St. Augustine Prep, a winner over No. 3 Mainland Regional, on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Stockton University in the tournament championship game. Jahlil White also had a double-double, finishing with 12 points and 10 boards, and Jacob Hopping added 16 points, two assists and two steals. Daniel Skillings led St. Joseph with 16 points and Ja’son Prevard added 12.
“It feels good, I get my anger out,” Thweatt said of his dunks. “(The last one), that’s how you end it. Like coach says, I have to pick the team up sometimes. Whatever we do reflects on the team and I know if I play hard, the team will play hard.”
“I thought we gave great effort for 32 minutes. Our kids played very, very hard for 32 minutes, and that’s what got us the win. I don’t think we played particularly well on the offensive end, but defensively, I thought we played great on the defensive end and I thought our effort was outstanding,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said. “(Thweatt) was into the game — I think everyone was — I can’t look down the floor and think of anybody who wasn’t into it. I thought defensively, I don’t think they were ready for the matchup zone, I don’t think they were ready for the 1-3-1. I think those things hurt them. We made that nice run — I think it was the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter — that’s when we went to the 1-3-1 and I think they struggled with that a little bit. We created some turnovers, got easy opportunities, runouts, which I think turned the tide.”
The teams were tied at 11 after the first quarter and St. Joseph (20-4) — which beat the Crusaders 66-58 in Hammonton on Feb. 11, handing Wildwood Catholic (19-7) one of its seven losses this season and ending Catholic’s 29-game CAL winning streak — made a nice run early in the third quarter, getting to within 25-23 on a 3-pointer by Prevard, but the Crusaders built the lead back up to 37-29 by the end of the third quarter, and early in the fourth consecutive threes from Thweatt and Martin Anguelov put Catholic up 45-34.
Thweatt said getting some revenge on the Wildcats certainly was on the minds of the Crusaders.
“We had to make up a lot for it. That was a bad loss. We knew we just had to play strong and play harder than we ever did because we shouldn’t have lost the first time,” he said. “We came out weak the first time, so we had to come out strong this game. I had to come out strong, we had to win this game. If we didn’t win this game coach would have been mad and it would have reflected badly on the team. I had to give my all.”
Now, the defending champion Crusaders get a chance to pick up their third straight CAL title if they can get past St. Augustine Prep on Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity. We’ve worked hard for it,” Thweatt said. “We just needed to play hard for this game. We came out with rough starts the past couple of games, so we needed to bounce back. This was a big one for us. We just had to play hard.”
“One of our goals was to go back,” DeWeese added. “We’re going to be playing against a very, very good team that I’m sure had a big chip on their shoulder about what happened down in North Wildwood. So, we’re going to have our hands full. We’re going to have to really play our best. Whatever happened before doesn’t really matter, it’s all going to be about who comes to play on Saturday afternoon.”