GMC Hoops Awards–Defensive Team of the Year

J.P. Stevens Hung Tough in 2015-16 Thanks to Its Defense

Mike Lionikis and Shivam Patel of J.P. Stevens defend against Colonia in the 2nd half of a White Division Clash on January 27th in North Edison. Lionikis as well as other Hawks such as Javon Scott and Jay’von Blacknall led a stout defense that led to Stevens best year since 2008-09.

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ–Towards the end of the last decade, the J.P. Stevens Hawks climbed out of mediocrity into one of the top teams in the Greater Middlesex Conference. Led by the likes of Myles Reuben, Kenny Bland, and Nick Pol, JPS reached the GMCT Quarterfinals in back to back years (2008 and 2009). After the 2008-09 campaign, the Hawks Big Three graduated, and then head coach, James Cardillo stepped down.

Enter current head coach, Bob Jones, who started his climb up the coaching ranks as an assistant to Jeff Lubreski at South Plainfield, and then moved over to Edison for the 2004-05 season to serve on Charlie Mohr’s staff as well as coach the freshmen team there. In the 2004-05 season, Edison’s freshmen squad flourished as it earned the fourth seed of that year’s Perth Amboy/GMC Freshmen Tournament, and then lost to South Brunswick in the quarterfinals.

One of the key elements to this year’s J.P. Stevens squad that Jones learned from Lubreski and Mohr was defense. As a former player at South Plainfield, especially one that was there in year one when Lubreski took over, I grew to learn that one of the pillars of success of many of those Tiger teams during the Lubreski era (1986-2005) was defense. Lubreski felt that anyone should be able to play defense. All defense took was desire to play it. One goal Lubreski had on his checklist for every game at South Plainfield was to hold opponents under 55 points per game. Well, this year’s Stevens squad surpassed that expectation by leaps and bounds.

As a result, JPS is being recognized as the GMC Hoops Defensive Team of the Year. In 24 games played, the Hawks gave up a total of just 969 points. They were the only team in the entire GMC to give up less than 1,000 total points this season. Broken down further, JPS limited opponents to just 40.4 points per game. So, even though the Hawks scored just under 50 points per game, they were still good enough to win almost two-thirds of their games by almost an average of 10 points per contest. Stevens led the conference in points per game allowed with the next closest team giving up around five points per game more. Only five teams in the GMC: Stevens, South Brunswick, Colonia, St. Joseph’s, and J.F. Kennedy, gave up less than 50 points per game.

The Hawks were 15-9 in 2015-16, which is the best record they have had during the Jones era in North Edison. Included in that 15-9 mark was a 9-5 mark in the GMC White, which placed them fourth in a division that went down to the wire between co-winners Colonia and Sayreville as well as the third place finisher, Woodbridge. JPS battled all three of those teams losing to Sayreville twice in the closing seconds, and once to Woodbridge by single digits while knocking off the Barrons in the second game of the season (40-29). The Hawks also suffered an overtime loss to Colonia (54-49) on January 27th in North Edison.

Those were just a sampling of some of the heartbreak experienced by the Hawks. Of the 9 losses suffered by JPS this season, six of them were by single digits. All six defeats came by a margin of 17 points, or an average of just under 3 points per game. Stevens was excruciatingly close to being one of the top five teams in the GMC this season. GMC Hoops was in the building for four of those six losses: a 63-60 loss to North Plainfield in the opening round of the Anthony J. Cotoia Tourney at South Plainfield on December 26th, a 54-49 OT loss at home to Colonia on January 27th, a 45-43 defeat to Sayreville at the Bomb Shelter on February 2nd, and 46-44 loss at Old Bridge in the GMCT Round of 16 on February 18th.

There is a silver lining to all those dark clouds though, and it was defense. In those six single digit losses, Stevens allowed an average of 53.3 points per game, which was higher than its entire season average, but it was what helped the Hawks stay competitive, and have a chance to win in those nailbiting contests. With the likes of top defender and big man Javon Scott coming back along with sixth man of the year, Rishav Ghosh, and a talented sophomore class led by the likes of Tyrese Conover and Jesse Shiluli, Stevens will look to factor in the GMC White race again in 2016-17. Defense will be front and center since it will be needed more than ever while the Hawks figure out who will step up to fill the offensive void left behind by Alex Corrigan and Mike Lionikis.