By BRIAN CUNNIFF
NORTH WILDWOOD — Jahlil White missed the Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team’s practices on Wednesday and Thursday due to flu-like symptoms.
But the time Friday’s game against St. Joseph ended, White had made the Wildcats ill.
The 6-6 junior guard/forward scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter to lead the Crusaders to a 62-52 win.
The victory allowed Wildwood Catholic (21-1) to finish its Cape-Atlantic United Conference slate unbeaten in 10 games. The Crusaders have won the conference’s regular-season title in each of the last eight seasons.
White went 8 for 8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“We went to the free-throw line and we made them and that was a big thing,” White said. “We couldn’t get stops to save our life but once we finally got one it turned it around for us.”
Wildwood Catholic led by eight at halftime, only to see the Wildcats (14-4) rally to within two points on two occasions in the second half. But Wildwood Catholic never relinquished the lead and eventually pulled away in the final two minutes.
“We played well enough to win, and that’s all we’ve been doing lately,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said. “We’re 22 games in, but I still don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of how good we could be. It seems strange to say when you’re 21-1, but we have a lot of things we need to work on, especially offensively.”
With Taj Thweatt limited partly due to foul trouble — he finished with 11 points and did not have a field goal in the second half — White was the difference in the game for the Crusaders.
“He really shot his free throws down the stretch and he had a couple big buckets in there, too,” DeWeese said. “He was out with the flu the last two days, so for him to perform like that is just awesome.”
Jacob Hopping added 13 points for Wildwood Catholic. He also played solid defense on St. Joseph star Marcellus Ross. Ross erupted for 34 points in Wildwood Catholic’s overtime win at St. Joseph on Jan. 16. Ross finished with 24 points in Friday’s game, but was held to 10 through three quarters. Ross was the only St. Joe player to score in the fourth quarter.
Wildwood Catholic will almost certainly be the No. 1 seed for the Cape-Atlantic League playoff tournament, which begins late next week. Official seedings will be announced sometime Wednesday. The Crusaders are also the No. 1 seed for the South Jersey Non-Public B Tournament, which begins at the end of the month. They could face St. Joseph again in both tournaments.
“They’re a really, really good team,” DeWeese said. “We still might play them two more times and the next two will be much tougher because it’ll be survive and advance.”
Wildwood Catholic hasn’t lost a CAL United Conference contest in two seasons.
“I think it’s a great accomplishment to go undefeated in our CAL games, and we won our two (league) crossover games, too,” DeWeese said. “That’s significant because I think it’ll give us confidence going into the Cape-Atlantic League tournament. We’ve beaten Pleasantville twice, St. Joe twice and we beat St. Augustine. Those are all teams we could face in the tournament, so hopefully it’ll give us a lot of confidence going into it.”