In the previous five Tournament of Champions title games, the top seed won four times and a second seed won once. Early in yesterday's game, that streak looked as if it would stay intact. Paterson Catholic, the Parochial B state champion, took a 13-2 lead before Orange regrouped.
"We had to regain our composure in the beginning," Orange coach Al Thompson said. "We had to settle down. Being in the championship for the first time, we were a little anxious."
Paterson Catholic coach James Salmon Jr. could be open to second-guessing for his strategy concerning his standout sophomore, Timmy Thomas. The 6-foot-9 center was called for his second foul with 3 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first quarter and Paterson Catholic leading, 14-8.
Thomas, who scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds, didn't play the rest of the first half and sat out 12 of the 32 minutes. He finished with three personal fouls.
"I thought about bringing him in late in the half, but the score was tied (at 21)," Salmon said. "We thought we could get away with it."
With Thomas out, Orange, with 6-6 Robert Skipper and 6-8 Duval Simmonds, took control inside. The Tornadoes, who beat Camden for the state Group 3 title, outscored Paterson Catholic, 18-4, in the second quarter to take a 29-23 halftime lead.
Simmonds, a St. Joe's recruit, earned MVP honors for scoring 21 points to go along with 16 rebounds and four blocks.
Skipper, who was the MVP in Orange's 65-63 over Camden, led all scorers with 23 points and had 15 rebounds against Paterson Catholic.
"I had been reading so much about Thomas, about how he is an all-American, and I took it as a personal challenge," Simmonds said. "He was tough, but nobody seemed to be giving our guys credit. We earned it today."
Orange entered the final period leading, 46-41, but Paterson Catholic scored six straight points to regain the lead, 47-46. Thomas keyed the run with four points. First, hee scored on a jumper off the dribble. Then Thomas, who's righthanded, hit a scoop shot with his left hand.
With the score tied at 51, Thomas was fouled hard on a pump fake with 3:52 left in the game. He remained on the floor a few moments before going to the bench.
After Montrice White hit two free throws, Thomas went back to the scorer's table, but couldn't re-enter the game for more than two minutes because play did not stop.
After Skipper tapped his own miss to give Orange a 57-55 lead with 1:36 remaining, Paterson Catholic finally called a timeout so Thomas could re-enter the game.
Orange controlled the game from that point, hitting 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch as Paterson Catholic went cold from the field.