Of the 49 varsity boys basketball teams involved in the 2016 Stellar Catch a Rising Star Showcase, just six will be playing on all four days.
Phillipsburg is one of them.
Playing four days at Stellar means playing on Sunday. And for the first time in program history, the Stateliners will do just that.
Phillipsburg posted a pair of quality wins Saturday at Parkland High School, first a 48-47 comeback win over Quakertown and then a 70-45 run-and-gun win over Allento survive and advance.
“It’s pretty unbelievable, really, knowing we’ve never been to this point before,” junior guard/forward Jayshawn Grant said. “We’re ready for the opportunity.”
The Stateliners will take on Faith Christian Sunday at 10 a.m. for a chance to keep their historic run alive in the loser’s bracket.
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“It means everything,” coach Eric Jacobs said. “I think it’s the first time ever the program has gotten this far in the Stellar tournament. You see the quality of the tournament. We’re just thrilled we keep battling and fighting and finding ways to win.”
From the tip against Allen, Phillipsburg showed it was for real. It raced out to a 15-4 lead on a 3-pointer from Dave Yale and stretched it to 33-16 by halftime. The Stateliners never let up in the up-tempo game, pushing the pace for plenty of fast break points.
Junior Chris Mann led Phillipsburg with 16 points, Grant added 11 and Bryce Feddeman and Jacob Ferguson chipped in nine apiece.
“It was fun being in sync with our teammates and knowing how well we can play each and every day,” Grant said. “We just knew where everyone on the court was at all times.”
Phillipsburg had scored 44 and 48 points in their previous two games before the showdown with the Canaries, but exploded for 70 with a more free-flowing offense.
“Our kids are good in the open court,” Jacobs said. “The last couple games, teams have played a zone that kind of slowed us down. Obviously Allen’s missing their big guns (Talek Williams and Tyrese Martin), but they’re still very athletic and they put a lot of pressure on you. You can see, we can play up and down the court. The kids have that kind of ability. It was just a good game to let it all out.”
Just to get a shot at Allen, which had nearly beaten Wilson West Lawn in the winner’s bracket an hour earlier, the Stateliners had to mount a big comeback. They trailed Quakertown almost the whole game, and were still down by double digits late in the second half before making their run.
“We just kept on persevering and fighting,” Jacobs said. “We had a very poor shooting game and Quakertown played very well. That’s how it is in the tournament. The kids just made some gutty plays down the stretch and found a way to win the game. That was a really good win for us.”
While half the battle of the tournament is the draw, the matchups, the timing and what players are available, Phillipsburg’s ticket to Sunday is all the more impressive considering some typical powerhouses who will be sitting at home: Parkland, Allen, Emmaus, Bangor, Notre Dame and Warren Hills.
Just getting to show up at Cedar Beach Park Sunday and take the court will be a new experience for the Stateliners as they continue to reshape the program.
“The kids are starting to really realize the value of playing smart basketball,” Jacobs said. “This was the first game we really broke out and you can see we have some talented kids. I’’m just so happy for them. They work really hard and to be playing on Sunday, in this tournament, I’m thrilled.”
Greg Joyce may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GJoyce9. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.