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February 22, 2008

Hurley Night Ends With Two Wins

Jersey City, New Jersey -- The prep basketball world has longed for a match up between the nation's most famous father - son coaching combo ever since Danny Hurley, the son of Bobby Hurley Sr., began coaching at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, New Jersey. Hurley Sr., of course, is the long-time mentor at St. Anthony in Jersey City, the top-ranked team in the Rivals.com FAB 50 national rakings. His son's club is currently No. 3 in the same national poll.

Both teams were in action Thursday night at St. Peter's College in Jersey City less than 36 hours after a bomb scare forced authorities to lock down the campus and evacuate students. Local police searched every building of the campus and didn't find anything, so Hurley night at the Yanitelli Center went on as planned.

It would have been a treat for those roundball fans in attendance to see the Hurleys match wits after the event was almost cancelled by pranksters, but what they witnessed was a scare of a different kind, as the nation's top-ranked club from St. Anthony held on to beat prep school power American Christian of Aston, Pa., 64-53, to remain unbeaten at 25-0. Hurley Sr. was also in the stands to watch his son's one-loss club beat yet another school from outside the Garden State, as St. Benedict's methodically downed Benedictine of Richmond, Va., 58-44.

In the first half of the evening's marquee match up, St. Anthony played like the No. 1 ranked team in America, using their defensive intensity and offensive execution to race out to an early lead against American Christian, a club that is not eligible for the FAB 50. St. Anthony's Mike Rosario, a Rutgers recruit, was recently named to the McDonald's All-American East team, but the star for the Friars in the first half was clearly junior 6-foot-6 forward Dominic Cheek.

The Friars raced out to a 8-0 lead as Cheek already made three shots from the field. The carnage was halted on an alley-oop dunk by American Christian's Tyreke Evans, but the locals continued to dominate. A three-pointer by Cheek made the score 15-6 and at that point American Christian was 0-7 from three-point range, many of them low percentage heaves. At the end of the first quarter, St. Anthony had a 18-6 lead and Cheek had 11 points and was perfect from the field.

Cheek nailed another bomb from long range to give the elder Hurley's club a 23-10 lead with 6:36 remaining in the second quarter and his conventional three-point play on a left handed lay-up made the score 29-13 with 4:42 showing on the clock. At that point, Cheek had 17 points, finishing the first half with 20 on seven of nine shooting, while Evans only had made one of four field goals. His dunk with 2:27 left before intermission made the score 34-23 and on the play the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year candidate lost his shoe, but he was able to retrieve it without hurting his team on defense because the rim was not a breakaway and had to be adjusted after his flush.

Evans, the EA SPORTS National Freshman of the Year in 2005 and sophomore of the year in 2006, has made steady appearances on the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker, but he was looking for a big performance against the nation's top-ranked team on national television to move into the upper echelon of candidates. He finished the first half with eight points and five rebounds as his team trailed 39-27.

The third quarter was a completely different story for the prep school just outside of Philadelphia. Evans quickly popped one of his patented fall-away three-pointers to make the score 39-30 and on AC's next possession he nailed a smooth-looking triple on the left wing and all of a sudden it was a six-point game. Yet another three-pointer, this one by Jeremiah Kelly, made the score 39-36 as Cheek missed his first two shots in the second half. After coming out the gate in ho-hum fashion, Evans and his teammates picked up their intensity after halftime with the nation's top uncommitted senior doing a great job defensively on Cheek.

American Christian went on a 13-0 run in the third period while the Friars missed their first 13 field goal attempts of the second half. American Christian even took the lead 40-39 on a lay-up by Evans with 2:42 left in the period, but St. Anthony was able to regain their composure the rest of the way. They scored their first bucket of the latter half on a lay-up by Travon Woodall and held a 45-42 lead entering the final period.

Woodall and Rosario picked up the slack for Cheek in the second half, as Rosario finished with 15 points on seven of 15 shooting. The fourth quarter was characterized by slower possessions and American Christian shot itself in the foot by continuing to fire up long range three-pointers while they were still within striking distance.

After Rice of New York transfer Lamont Jones hit a nine-footer in the lane, AC trailed 50-45 and Evans made one of two free throws to cut the lead to four (50-46). That free throw, however, was his 17th and last point on the game. He made a highlight block on the defensive end only to jack up a three-pointer on the other end that missed. It would have cut the lead to one point with just over two minutes left in the game.

American Christian got no closer.

Evans finished with his 17 points on seven of 21 shooting. He did play good defense in the second half, as Cheek did not score after intermission, and had three highlight blocks. Jones, meanwhile, made only three of 15 field goals and only one of eight three-point attempts as AC shot 32 percent from the field as a unit.

Woodall finished with 13 points for St. Anthony, which finished the regular season unbeaten. The 11-point victory was the 926th win of Hurley Sr.'s illustrious coaching career.

His son doesn't have nearly as many wins as his father, who is a strong candidate to one day be elected to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, but his program has now won 124 of its last 130 games after the 58-44 win over Benedictine, which came into Thursday night's contest ranked No. 19 in the East Region Top 20 rankings compiled by StudentSportsBasketball.com.

While Evans has been a candidate looking to make up some ground in the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year race, St. Benedict's Samardo Samuels has clearly been one of the three leading senior candidates along with Oak Hill Academy's Brandon Jennings and Jrue Holiday from Campbell Hall High School in Southern California.

Samuels was too tough to handle inside for Benedictine and its EA SPORTS All-American candidate, Ed Davis, a North Carolina commit who will join Evans and Samuels on the McDonald's All-American East team.

Samuels bulldozed his way to eight consecutive points as the Gray Bees, ranked No. 3 in the Rivals.com FAB 50 behind Duncanville, Texas, took a 16-9 lead with 1:06 left in the first period. St. Benedict's led 20-12 at the end of the first quarter and made nine of 10 field goals.

The Gray Bees couldn't keep that torrid pace up as the second quarter had many sloppy possessions, bit it didn't matter much as they kept the visitors from easy looks inside. The boys from Newark took a 30-18 halftime lead over the Cadets and maintained a double digit lead throughout the second half.

After taking a 42-29 lead entering the fourth period, the Gray Bees' lead grew to 18 points (47-29) on a three-pointer by Tamir Jackson with 5:30 left in the game. Dan Hurley emptied his bench with 1:15 left in the game as St. Benedict's shot 54 percent from the field in the 14-point win. Benedictine, meanwhile, shot 39 percent.

Samuels, a Louisville bound power forward, once again led 24-1 St. Benedict's with 19 points, six rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal. Junior Greg Echenique also did damage inside for Hurley with 11 points on four of five shooting to go along with six rebounds. For the Cadets, Davis finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.

Duncanville, the preseason No. 1 team that was won 72 of its last 73 games, kept up with the two Hurley-ran programs back East by winning in the opening round of the University Interscholastic League's (UIL) Region I-5A playoffs. They routed Hurst Bell, 101-62, on February 19 to up their record to 33-1. Up next for the Panthers is North Richland Hills this weekend.

Even if Duncanville gets past that club, they would still have to win five more games to claim the Texas Class 5A state title for the second consecutive season. So even though St. Benedict's won't participate in the New Jersey Tournament of Champions, they are still in the hunt for the FAB 50 national title since the road to a Class 5A state title for Duncanville and an undefeated season for St. Anthony, which does normally compete in the TOC, won't be easy.

Bob Hurley Sr.'s top-ranked club, however, cleared a major hurdle on that national championship road Thursday night.

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