After all, Plainfield (24-8) is the last team standing between St. Anthony and another miracle season.
The two teams will meet in the last high school game of the season in New Jersey — the Tournament of Champions final at 8 p.m. at the Izod Center in East Rutherford.
“We want our kids to stay in the moment and play every possession,” Lubreski, coach of the Group 3 state champions, said Sunday night by phone. “We want them to pay attention to our offensive possessions and attention to our defensive possessions, try to limit their runs and play to try and hang around until the fourth quarter.”
Led by Naismith Hall of Famer Bob Hurley, St. Anthony (32-0) is seeking its 11th Tournament of Champions crown in the event’s 23-year history and fourth mythical national championship (1989, ’96, and ’08). A public school has not won the T of C since Camden in 2000.
Hurley is also looking for his second perfect season in the last four years. His 2007-08 team won the Tournament of Champions and produced five players in this year’s NCAA Tournament, including Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor.
If Plainfield has any advantage, it is that the two teams already met this season, with St. Anthony winning, 59-47, on Jan. 2 behind 24 points from Rutgers-bound point guard Myles Mack.
“I think it does [help],” Lubreski said. “We have at least a frame of reference where we talked about matchups. We’re a better basketball team than we were then but, make no mistake about it, they certainly are as well.”
St. Anthony surprised some by winning the unofficial national championship game with a 62-45 victory over Kentucky-bound Michael Gilchrist and St. Patrick, then No. 1 in the nation, March 9 at Rutgers.
“It’s a championship game that should be different than the sectional,” Lubreski said of that powerhouse showdown which drew more than 8,000 fans to the RAC.
Yet, it is Plainfield that has the last chance to stop the St. Anthony steamroller, not St. Patrick.
“We’ll make no excuses for showing, up but we’ll be there,” Lubreski said.
Few could have imagined that Plainfield would be in this position when the season began.
After all, the program saw Villanova-bound point guard Tyrone Johnson, a first-team All-State selection, depart for Montrose Christian in July, leaving the program without one of the top guards in the state.
“We heard the musings going on,” Lubreski said. “When it was official in July our kids had enough time to mentally adjust for it and to realize that their roles would change and it would be a little different as the year went on. They just got down to business as soon as possible and, to their credit, developed as a team.”
Without Johnson, 5-11 junior point guard Sekou Harris (13.8 ppg, 3.5 apg) and 6-7 junior forward Justin Sears (12.8 ppg, 14.0 rpg) have stepped up as leaders.
They will have their hands full with a Friars team that features former Paterson Catholic standouts Mack (14 ppg., 5.5 apg) and Kyle Anderson (15 ppg., 8.5 rpg., 5 apg), who is being courted by everyone from Kentucky to Duke to North Carolina.
“They’re both outstanding players,” Lubreski said. “They certainly make St. Anthony a more versatile team, and therefore a more difficult team to guard. When you talk about playing St. Anthony, you have to begin with Kyle Anderson and Myles Mack, but if you give both of them too much attention, you’re gonna get burned by [Jordan] Quick or [Lucky] Jones or somebody else. It’s a pretty balanced lineup with a lot of weapons in it. Those are the two you have to focus on first.”
Hurley says both Mack and Anderson have meshed well with the nucleus he had before they arrived.
“I think they’ve adapted very well,” he said. “The most difficult part of this is that we have kids here that can play and we’ve had to figure out all year how to use everyone, how to use Jerome [Frink], how to use Lucky, how to use the kids off the bench, how to use Jordan, while these two were trying to figure out how I like to play.
“And I think that’s why we’re so dangerous right now. We’ve gotten to a point where we kind of figure out how we can play. And we’re dangerous because of them and what the other kids can do.”
For Lubreski, it’s always an honor to match wits with Hurley, even as his team is once again the underdog.
“We really respect everything that he’s done for high school basketball,” he said. “It’s an honor to play him. He knows that when the game begins we’ll be trying like crazy to beat him.”
(Photo courtesy Peter Ackerman/MyCentralJersey.com)