Eagles Could Use Some 2001 Magic for Matchup with Aquinas

Tuesday’s Showdown with Trojans Revives Memories of 2000-01 Edison’s Upset of Undefeated and No. 1 St. Joseph’s 

EDISON, NJ—Tuesday night is a big night for Edison Eagles basketball.  In a rare girls and boys basketball doubleheader at Frank Cangelosi Gymnasium, Edison will be first taking on South Brunswick in a GMC Girls match-up at 5:30 PM, and then the 5th ranked boys will face top ranked and undefeated St. Thomas Aquinas in the nightcap at 7:00 PM.

It has been a long time since Edison hoops has had a moment like this.  The last time the Eagles knocked off a top ranked and undefeated GMC team on the boys hardwood was some 7,680 days ago.  On the night of January 22, 2001, Edison hosted St. Joseph’s in a Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division match-up.  The evening would end with one of the biggest wins in Edison boys basketball history.

At that time, St. Joseph’s was the top ranked team in the GMC.  The Falcons were then coached by Mark Taylor, who was on the sidelines last night in Metuchen for St. Benedict’s as the Gray Bees defeated No. 3 St. Joe’s, 88-54.  One of Taylor’s assistant coaches was the legendary Bill Kuchar, who just passed away at 88 according to Central Jersey Sports Radio on Tuesday morning.

The Eagles were then coached by Mike Meagher, who now serves as varsity assistant coach to current head coach Charlie Mohr.  Current Edison AD, Dave Sandaal was an assistant to Meagher back in 2001. One of his top players that year was Frankie Eckert, who will be coaching on the sidelines for Edison’s girls basketball team during their contest against South Brunswick.  Another standout player from that team, Thomas Johnson Sr., had a son that played for Edison, and graduated in 2019.

While the St. Joseph’s team of 2000-01 may not have been as talented or as athletic as this year’s Aquinas team, it still had two NCAA D1 players in  Greg Kuchinski (Penn) and Preston Beverly (VMI).  Today, Beverly is a head coach in the college ranks at Evangel University, an NAIA school in Springfield, Missouri.  

According to the Metuchen Review from January 26, 2001, St. Joseph’s jumped out to an 11-2 lead as the Eagles opened the game shooting just 1 of 13 from the floor.  However, Edison didn’t fold, and feeding off the energy of its raucous home crowd that night, began to chip away at the early deficit.  The Eagles outscored the Falcons in each of the last three periods to gain a hard fought, 40-39 victory.

Mike Bell, a 6’1” 170 pound junior at the time, who along with Johnson Sr., had a team high 11 points, made one of two from the foul line with three seconds to play to lift the Eagles to the upset.  Senior forward, Glenn Thomas was the third player to score in double figures with 10 points while junior forward Billy Andrews chipped in with 8.

Kuchinski led all scorers with a game high 14 points while Beverly and Sean Young chipped in with 7 in a losing cause for the Falcons.  Young tied the game at 39-39 on a bucket with 18 seconds to play in regulation.  St. Joe’s outscored Edison by a margin of 30-26 from inside the arc, and 6-5 at the charity stripe, but the Eagles scored a decisive 9-3 advantage in points scored from beyond the arc.

Long time Middlesex County hoops beat writer, John Haley honored this game as the Home News-Tribune’s boys basketball game of the year in 2000-01.  GMC Hoops gave its Game of the Year honor to Carteret and Highland Park for its 78-76 overtime thriller in Highland Park during the first week of January 2001.  Edison’s win over Joes did earn that season’s 2001 Upset of the Year from GMC Hoops.

Edison, which now competes in the GMC White, would not defeat St. Joseph’s again until December 20, 2006 (35-33) when Mohr was in his 4th year as head coach for the Eagles.  It was the last time, the Eagles would defeat the Falcons.  The two schools last played each other in the 2018 GMCT Quarterfinals, which was won by then top seeded St. Joseph’s (67-61) en route to another conference title.

One of the keys to that Edison win over St. Joseph’s in January 2001 was the Eagles ability to not let the Falcons get too far ahead, and make it a low scoring game.  The Eagles were able to withstand the Falcons pressure defense after some early struggles, and dictate the style of play.  Those ingredients will be essential for the Eagles to hang with the top ranked Trojans on Tuesday night.

The last time these two teams met was at Aquinas in North Edison on Thursday, January 6th when the Trojans won 77-55.  In that contest, senior guard, Adam Silas led Aquinas with a game high 22 points while sophomore Jaden Kelly added 17 and junior Terrell Pitts chipped in with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.  Niko Barnes and Elisha White shared team high for Edison with 13 points.

The Eagles can ill afford to have Aquinas score 77 points again if they are to have a chance, but holding them to something like the 2000-01 Edison team did to St. Joseph’s will be a very tall order.  Following its 86-62 victory over Morris Catholic at the Hilltopper Showcase in Newark on Sunday, St. Thomas Aquinas had tallied a total of 1,274 points on offense, or an average of 74.9 points per game.

To make matters worse, the Trojans, who lead the GMC in scoring, also are tops in the conferences in defense.  As of the end of play on Sunday, Aquinas has yielded only 658 total points, or an average of 38.7 points per game.  The combination of stellar offense and defense has resulted in another dominant Trojans squad that has defeated all of its opponents by an average of 36.2 points per game.

Meanwhile, Edison ranks 6th in offense with an average of 63.5 points per game, 10th in defense that has yielded 50.4 points per contest, and 6th in point differential.  The Eagles have outscored their foes by an average of 15.4 points per game.  While Aquinas enters the contest undefeated at 17-0, Edison comes into play on Tuesday night with an overall record of 11-4.  Three of the four losses have been by less than 8 points including two to Colonia.

The Eagles lost to Colonia at Cangelosi Gym on December 20th (59-57), and most recently fell to the 2nd ranked Patriots at Colonia (56-48) on January 20th.  Edison also lost to Plainfield (73-70) in overtime in the Championship Game of the 2021 Anthony J. Cotoia Tournament at South Plainfield High School on December 29th.

The closest that Aquinas came to being defeated was on opening weekend, when it pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat No. 3 St. Joseph’s (64-57) in the nightcap game of the 2021 Friends of South Amboy Charity Basketball Games on December 18th.  The Trojans also beat Colonia on the road (64-52) on January 11th.  Aquinas is scheduled to play the Patriots again on Thursday night in North Edison.

Silas, who scored a game high 28 points in the victory over Morris Catholic on Sunday, is averaging 18.6 points per game to rank 7th in the GMC in scoring.  Teammate, Pitts, who transferred from Bishop McDevitt in Wyncotte, Pennsylvania this past offseason, is averaging 14.6 points per contest for the Trojans.  Edison is led in scoring by Barnes and White.

Barnes, who is the only remaining starter from the historic 2019-20 Edison Eagles squad that won its first ever division title in school history, and reached the GMCT Final Four for the first time since playing in the 1966 MCT Championship, is averaging 21.4 points per game to rank 4th in the GMC in scoring along with Calvary Christian’s Jack Zink.  White, whose older brother Malachi played in the 2019-20 team, is averaging 17.2 ppg.