Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEWARK — Blair Academy head coach Joe Mantegna sounded very relieved on Wednesday after his team had defeated St. Benedict’s Prep in the New Jersey Prep A State final by a score of 77-65.
“Well, we had lost nine straight state championship games here to St. Benedict’s so obviously it separates this team from a lot of previous teams,” Mantegna told SNY.tv.
Nine straight championship games lost by Blair when facing St. Benedict’s Prep. For an incredible losing streak that like to end against a perennial powerhouse, Blair needed a Herculean effort all-around and they certainly gave one Wednesday night. They were led by 2014 guard Kevin Seymour, 2015 forward Elijah Burns and 2014 guard/wing Marial Shayok, who is committed to play at Marquette for coach Buzz Williams next year.
“You know, we talked to our guys about dominating their roll,” Mantegna said. “I thought all those guys played within themselves and they dominated their role. But I also thought that we trusted each other. We just made the simple play over and over today instead of one or two guys trying to make all the plays. I thought today we just made a series of simple plays and when you’re as talented as we are, that’s how you’re supposed to play.”
The simple play seemed to be evident in those three Blair players’ games. Shayok and Seymour were extremely dynamic in transition as both pulled down a number of defensive rebounds to immediately begin the transition game which led to several fast-break points for Blair. Even in the half-court, the drives of Shayok, Seymour and Burns, led several Gray Bees defenders to collapse on them and leave shooters open on the perimeter. They would make the smart pass and, if needed, the extra pass to secure the most open look for one of their teammates, which more often than not ended in a make.
The most crucial makes seemed to come from senior Mike Silverthorn, who canned four triples in the game; three of them came in the first half to help give his Blair Academy team their nine-point lead at halftime.
“That was a great win,” Shayok said. “We were down, but we just kept our composure. We’ve been practicing all year and today it was on display. I’m really happy with my guys.”
Burns agreed with his teammates.
“This win was very big for us,” the uncommitted forward said. “When we came in here though we knew were going to have to fight the whole game. It was going to be a battle, but we came out as a team and put on a show I feel like. We played together and that was a big thing. Just to play as teammates and trust each other.”
When asked about Blair’s defense in the second quarter when they yielded only seven points to the Gray Bees, Burns mentioned how much more focused they were after giving up 23 points in the first quarter.
“That was a big adjustment for us,” he said. “We knew that giving up 23 points in the first quarter, we couldn’t do that in the next quarter so we kind of locked down. We’ve been playing great defense all year so we kind of just dug down in ourselves and got it down.”
Coach Mantegna praised his team’s ability to get out in front of St. Benedict’s Prep early in the game to “force them to play from behind which they weren’t used to.”
After taking a nine-point lead into halftime, Blair never relented and kept their foot on the Gray Bees’ throats. Their lead never got below seven points for the rest of the game and on defense, they never allowed them to go on a run and build any momentum. There was always a quick response by Shayok or Seymour, who had 13 of his 17 points in the second half. He also shot 9-10 from the foul line in the second half as well and his composure handling the ball never gave St. Benedict’s a window to get back in the game.
“He had a Division 1 offer coming out of the summer,” Mantegna said of Seymour. “He’s got some Division 2 offers right now. For a three-yearsenior point guard to play the best game of his career in the biggest game of his career, he was the difference.”
Kamar McKnight and Trevon Duval were the high scorers for St. Benedict’s Prep with 21 and 15 points, respectively. VCU commit Jon Williams also chipped in with 11 points.
Shayok and Burns finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively, while both were very active on the glass and heavily involved in orchestrating the offense.
“I mean I think he’s [Shayok] a super-versatile guard who can impact the game in a lot of different ways,” Mantegna said. “You saw today how well he pass. He can make open shots, defend a lot of different positions and plays point guard for us in a pinch when Kevin comes off the floor. I think what Buzz [Williams] likes so much about him is that he can fill a lot of different holes with his versatility.”
Shayok also mentioned what he can bring to Marquette next season.
“My ability to play many positions, handle the ball, look for other guys, play defense…score if I have to,” he said.
Burns will follow Shayok as the next Blair Academy player who will commit to a high-major school, most likely before next season begins.
He listed offers from Boston College and Seton Hall. Also interested in Burns are Temple, Georgetown, Northwestern, Georgia Tech and a few other schools. He mentioned a probable visit to Boston College soon and hoped to visit Seton Hall and Georgetown in the near future as well.