HADDONFIELD-- Even though he missed his first few three-point attempts, Taj Thweatt felt confident from beyond the arc.
The Wildwood Catholic junior banked on that confidence to knock down a pair of huge triples in the fourth quarter to power the Crusaders past Eastern 60-51 on Sunday at the Paul VI Winter Classic.
“The first half I shot two threes and I missed them, but it felt good so I knew I had to keep shooting,” Thweatt said.
“When I took the shots in the second half, I knew they were good because I was confident and I already knew I had confidence."
Thweatt’s pair of threes ignited a fourth-quarter surge from the Crusaders, who played from behind for most of the first three quarters.
“We’ve been down a couple times like this and we know how to handle it,” Thweatt said. “When we’re down, we don’t really worry about being down. We just focus on every play.”
“I thought we played really well for 12 minutes,” Wildwood Catholic head coach Dave DeWeese said. “For 12 minutes of that game, the last four minutes of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter, I thought we played really well.”
Thweatt scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, as the Crusaders made adjustments to Eastern’s impressive defensive game plan.
The Vikings smothered Wildwood Catholic in the paint and forced the Crusaders to make three-pointers, and the strategy worked in Eastern’s favor for a half.
“They had a great defensive game plan,” DeWeese said. “They laid off us and were almost daring us to shoot a three-pointer. In the first half, we were kind of baited into that.
“In the second half, I thought we were more patient. We got into the lane, we kicked it out, we threw 7-8-9 passes and then it starts to open up a little bit. If you try and throw the ball into the post on the first pass, they’re down there doubling on him. I think that opened things up a little bit and his energy level clearly was higher in the second half than it was in the first half.”
The victory propelled the Crusaders to 22-1 ahead of their entry into the Cape-Atlantic League tournament and the playoffs.
“If you’d have asked me at the beginning of the season where we would be I would never have said this given our schedule and the opponents we’ve played,” DeWeese said. “I’m very surprised at where we are, but credit to these kids. They’ve found a way to win tough games. Going into both tournaments, we’re a pretty seasoned team. We played a lot of really tough games and had to come back from deficits. It doesn’t seem to bother them.”