South Jersey Sports Report: Taj Thweatt Leads Wildwood Catholic to Dominating Win Over Prep
NORTH WILDWOOD — As if star senior forward Taj Thweatt needed any additional motivation in Wildwood Catholic’s showdown with St. Augustine Prep — its biggest Cape-Atlantic League challenger this season — Thweatt took an inadvertent elbow to the face from Hermits forward Matt Delaney early in the first quarter on Wednesday night.
Taj Thweatt is an impressive basketball player on any night, but an angry Taj Thweatt — well, better just to get out of the way so you don’t get run over.
Thweatt played one of the most dominating games in his career against the Hermits, scoring a game-high 28 points that featured everything from monster two-hand slam dunks to workmanlike putbacks to traditional three-point plays. Oh, and he also chipped in 19 rebounds, three assists and three steals for good measure.
In front of a sold-out crowd in Wildwood Catholic’s tiny Sr. Mary Ellen Ford Gymnasium, the Crusaders showed off everything they had, from Jacob Hopping nailing six 3-pointers, to Martin Anguelov hitting big shots to Jahlil White blazing past defenders for baseline layups.
“That got me ticked off. I was mad, so I just wanted to dunk on somebody,” Thweatt said, referring to catching that elbow to his jaw. “This was a great environment to play in today and we’re just looking forward to the next game. When you catch a dunk, it’s crazy when everybody goes crazy.”
“We’ve been developing chemistry, bit by bit, and we’ve seen progress every game. Tonight was a great offensive performance. I thought we played very well together, we shared the ball — we’re doing a lot of good things now that we weren’t doing early in the year,” said Wildwood Catholic coach David DeWeese. “We had a couple games here at home, where we played Middle, Cape May Tech and St. Joe, and I think the kids really got energized with our pressure defense. We kind of changed from where we were, we were playing a lot of man-to-man, a lot of zone, and we’ve kind of turned the heat up a little bit and I think that has energized our kids. They seem to be responding very well.”
Right from the start: The Crusaders (12-2) blitzed the Hermits right from the jump, racing out to a 7-0 lead highlighted by a 3-point play from Thweatt right after he caught the elbow and White scoring off a steal. St. Augustine Prep (10-3) called a timeout, but the onslaught was well underway. Thweatt nailed a three then Hopping scored on a layup and followed that up with a 3-pointer of his own as Wildwood Catholic stretched its lead to 16-2.
Later in the first quarter Thweatt threw down a massive two-handed slam dunk and Hopping followed that up with a three as the Crusaders’ lead swelled to 21-8, and Catholic led 23-8 after one quarter of play. Hopping hit six 3-pointers, five of which came in the first half, and finished with 22 points.
“In the beginning of the season, I was struggling and I wasn’t shooting very well. That’s not very normal. I didn’t really worry about it because I had my coach and my teammates telling me, ‘keep shooting, keep shooting. It’s no big deal, you’re going to make shots. That’s what you.’ So, I just had to keep shooting until I started feeling my groove, and it’s finally starting to come back,” said Hopping, a senior guard. “It felt amazing, especially in this kind of environment with everybody basically on top of you, it’s a crazy kind of game.”
“He shot the lights out tonight. We have a lot of weapons, and we’ve been saying all along that any night, any one of these kids can step up and score 30 points,” DeWeese said. “Tonight it was Jacob’s night to step up, Martin stepped up against Marist. We have a lot of different weapons we can utilize.”
“Everybody was into it at the beginning of the game. We got Jacob open shots and he was feeling it today. We just had to play hard,” Thweatt added.
Building blocks: Wildwood Catholic is playing a loaded schedule this season, already having suffered tough losses to teams such as Archbishop Wood of Pennsylvania and Elizabeth, and there are still some mighty big tests to come. The Crusaders take on Burlington Township on Saturday, Seton Hall Prep at Atlantic City’s Battle By the Bay on Feb. 1 and The Patrick School on Feb. 8 in a nationally televised game.
Hopping said he and his teammates are going to have to take care of business during the CAL schedule because there are some big prizes out there to be had.
“Many people thought coming into this game that it was going to be a really big game. We wanted to prove that we’re not just one of the best teams in South Jersey, but we’re one of the best teams in the state and this shouldn’t be a game. We should be handling our business and moving on. I think that kind of gave us the edge at the beginning of the game,” he said.
“Look, you don’t want to be great in December, you want to be great at the end of February and in March. That’s been our goal, to build it up to that point,” DeWeese said. “That’s why we schedule the teams we schedule. Sometimes taking a couple lumps early on is a good thing, it wakes kids up, gets them working harder and motivates them to get better. That’s what we’ve fortunately seen happen.
“We like facing the hype. Like coach said, we want to be successful in March and not the beginning of the year, so we want to play strong toward the end,” Thweatt added. “We like being doubted, it makes us play harder. And in those types of situations, you can see we played harder today.”
Stats: Aside from Thweatt’s 28 points and 19 rebounds, Hopping finished with 22, Anguelov added three 3-pointers and 11 points, and White finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists. For St. Augustine Prep, Delaney led the way with 11 points while Keith Palek added 10 points and six rebounds. Kevin Foreman added four points and seven assists.
What’s next: Wildwood Catholic takes on Burlington Township on Saturday at 5:45 p.m. St. Augustine Prep battles Bordentown on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullsays