Don Bosco headed back to finals of boys basketball Tournament of Champions by Greg Mattura of The Record

TOMS RIVER – Don Bosco has earned a second chance to become the first from Bergen County to win the boys’ basketball Tournament of Champions.

The Ironmen overcame a horrendous first quarter and smothered Shawnee, 49-39, in the semifinals of the 30th annual TOC on Thursday night at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.

“We worked so hard for this,” Don Bosco senior forward Marcellus Earlington said, “and we had this goal from the beginning of the season.”

Second-seeded Don Bosco (29-2) will face either top-seeded Roselle Catholic in Sunday’s 5 p.m. final at Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, one year after losing in the final to top-seeded Patrick School.

Don Bosco increased the intensity and commitment to its man-to-man defense and held Shawnee to 19 points over the final three quarters. That came after the Ironmen were dominated in the first eight minutes and trailed, 20-8.

“I thought we did a phenomenal job defensively after the first quarter,” said Don Bosco coach Kevin Diverio. “Twenty points [allowed] in the first quarter, 19 the rest of the way.”

“I think we underestimated them a lot,” said Don Bosco senior swingman Ronald Harper Jr., “So we just had to go into the huddle at the end of the first quarter and regroup and recuperate and talk to each other, and we came out in the second quarter and executed and didn’t underestimate them the rest of the game.”

More: Don Bosco basketball downs Camden Catholic, repeats as Non-Public A champion

More: Boys basketball: Don Bosco survives St. Peter’s Prep, three-peats as NJ sectional champ

More: Ramapo College men’s basketball earns trip to Division III Final Four

Earlington dominated inside, producing 14 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. His work on the offensive glass – turning teammates’ misses into putbacks – enabled the Ironmen to pull within 22-21 at halftime.

“They did everything they could to keep us out of the inside,” Diverio said, “and [Earlington] did a lot of it on his own getting it off the glass, which he has done all year. And when he’s active on the glass, he’s pretty tough.”

Harper scored a team-high 17 points for Don Bosco, including eight in the third to help turn the 22-21 deficit into a 35-33 lead. The Rutgers signee also had nine rebounds and a game-high four blocks.

Don Bosco rode a 10-0 run in the third to take a 33-27 lead and never trailed thereafter. Earlington, committed to St. John’s, contributed two baskets during the spurt, while Harper chipped in a three-pointer and senior forward Victor Konopka (eight points, four rebounds) added a layup.

The Ironmen broke it open in the final minute by shooting 6-for-6 from the foul line. Harper made two free throws with 43 seconds left for a 45-37 lead. Senior swingman Matt Herasme (10 points, six rebounds) made two free throws with 30 seconds left, and the St. Peter’s commit made another two with 23 seconds left for the 10-point margin.

Join and get
1st Month Free

If the Ironmen had lost, the name Dean Noll would have forever been burned in their memories. The fleet-footed Noll scored a game-high 24 points, shooting 10-for-17 from the field, to stake Shawnee to its 20-8 lead.

Don Bosco senior guard Michael Concannon’s defense cooled Noll. Diverio switched Concannon onto Noll early in the second quarter after Herasme picked up his second foul and “did a phenomenal job on him and changed the complexion of the game.” Concannon kept Noll out of the lane.

“I knew he was very quick, so I wasn’t trying to get up in him,” said Concannon, who had a game-high six assists. “I was going to give him space, because he was a drive-first player, so that’s exactly what I did.”