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Tigers Sports

Wade, Bruce pace Linden past Plainfield By JERRY CARINO for Home News Tribune Online

Posted Saturday, March 01, 2008 by By JERRY CARINO Home News Tribune Online

Wade, Bruce pace Linden
Home News Tribune Online 03/1/08

LINDEN — The young lions tried to chase the old lion off of his throne in Friday night's North 2 Group IV boys basketball semifinal.

Today the old lion is still standing.

Four-year starter Desmond Wade scored 15 points and junior center David Bruce posted 18 points and 17 rebounds as Linden leaned on its seasoning to hold off upstart Plainfield 49-44 before a standing-room-only crowd of 1,000.

Fifth-seeded Linden (23-6) will defend its sectional title against second-seeded Piscataway Monday in Elizabeth's Dunn Center.

The Houston-bound Wade shut down Plainfield guard Anthony Baskerville and outdueled the Cardinals' youthful but spectacularly talented Isaiah Epps and Tyrone Johnson in the final three minutes as Linden held on to a lead that shrank throughout the second half.

"They'll be good in the future, but I think this is my time, this is my year," Wade said. "I want to end up with another state championship."

Ninth-seeded Plainfield, which split with Linden during the regular season, finished with a record of 18-8.

"If you had told me that they would have scored 49 points, I would have said, "Jeez, we're going to win the game,' " Plainfield coach Pete Vasil said. "If we execute a little more, we win the game. We had them on the ropes. But they're a seasoned team."

The seasoning was most evident in the fourth quarter. Linden led 29-19 at the half, patiently attacking the 2-3 zone Plainfield stacked against the 6-foot-9 Bruce. But Johnson (15 points) and forward Khalid Muhammed (nine points, 10 rebounds) helped the Cardinals chip away in the third, which ended with Linden leading 38-32.

The lead was 35-30 when Linden guard Jerelle Louis delivered the first of two momentum-stoppers for the Tigers. To the shock of at least half the folks in the gym, Louis squared to shoot from 30 feet away, let if fly and it fell through the net with 5:20 left in the game.

"I told him in the locker room, "You've got a lot of (guts) for taking that,' " Linden coach Phil Colicchio said, laughing. "If it didn't go down I would have punched him in his jaw."

But Plainfield kept coming. A put-back by Sean Blackmon cut Linden's lead to 45-42 with 2:32 left. It was white-knuckle time and both teams misfired on two possessions in the face of ferocious defense. Then Baskerville dribbled the ball off his leg and out of bounds, and Linden went to its high-low play. Romell Bateman fed Bruce, who turned and hit a 6-foot shot to make it 47-42 with 1:00 left.

"It was something we were trying to basically do the whole day," Colicchio said. "The second time we played them this year we really had success getting the ball inside to David. David didn't come out today. He was a little fatigued. But when we needed a basket we went to our bread and butter."

Plainfield missed on the other end, but Epps came up with a quick steal and got the ball to Johnson, who was all alone on the left wing. He missed a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left and that was all she wrote.

"It's a shame," Vasil said. "With the defense we played we deserved to win the game, but we just couldn't cash in on opportunities. We settled for too many 3s and we forced some stuff at critical times."

Which is exactly the opposite of what Linden did when the chips were piled high.

"Experience is the best teacher," Colicchio said. "We've been in the sectional finals now four years in a row."

In the fourth quarter, in the face of a tenacious Plainfield press, Wade didn't have a single turnover. And Baskerville, the hero of Wednesday's quarterfinal win over Bridgewater-Raritan, finished with just three points.

"That's what makes Des maybe the best guard Linden's ever had," Colicchio said. "We're asking the kid to dribble the ball, score points, rebound the basketball and defend the other team's top scorer. Thank God he's 18 or I might get charged with child abuse."

He added, in a more serious tone, "I don't think we're going to see the likes of Desmond Wade for a long, long time."

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