Phil Anastasia: Paulsboro suffers its first boys' basketball loss

Sean Collins called it "a monster."

The Paulsboro boys' basketball coach wasn't talking about Asbury Park's defense, or the Blue Bishops' fastbreak, or their relentless pursuit of offensive rebounds.

Those things, while daunting, could be attacked, defended and neutralized - although Paulsboro struggled to meet any of those challenges in a 67-54 loss in Wednesday's Group 1 state semifinals at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.

But what might have been the biggest test of all for the Red Raiders had nothing to do with Asbury Park, the defending state champion, or the elevated stage of the state semifinals.

It was Paulsboro's own record. At 30-0, the Red Raiders were the first South Jersey boys' basketball team since Shawnee in 1995 to get to 30 victories without a loss.

And while there were clear basketball reasons the Red Raiders lost the game - they were beaten down the court repeatedly by the speedy Blue Bishops - there might have been psychological factors as well.

Maybe an undefeated record is as much as a burden as a bonus.

"You never want to lose a game in the middle of the season," Collins said. "But 30-0 starts to be a monster on your back."

Collins wasn't saying that being undefeated was a bad thing. That's counterintuitive to any competitor, and the Paulsboro roster and coaching staff (and athletic department and town) are filled with fierce competitors.

Collins was thrilled to be 30-0. He said his team hopes to go 32-0 next season - an undefeated state champion like that 28-0 Lenape team in 2004.

But perhaps there's a reason - beyond the obvious, which is the competition in the Tournament of Champions - no South Jersey boys' basketball team has gone undefeated since Camden in 1986.

And why no baseball team has finished undefeated since Pennsville in 1981.

And why no boys' soccer team has finished undefeated since Shawnee in 1988.

"I don't think it's a burden, but it does put more pressure on you as a coach because you don't want the kids to feel like losers if they lose one tournament game," said Gloucester Catholic baseball coach Dennis Barth, who has coached two one-loss teams (29-1 and 33-1) as well as a 31-2 team last season.

The Tournament of Champions certainly is a factor in boys' basketball. Those undefeated Camden teams in 1986 and 1984 didn't have to play in the T of C (which started in 1989), although those nationally-ranked Panthers with players such as Kevin Walls and Louis Banks probably would have captured those titles, too.

Shawnee was 31-0 in 1995 and lost to St. Anthony of Jersey City by a 47-44 score in the T of C final. That might have been coach Joe Kessler's best team - the Renegades outscored the No. 4 team in the state, Piscataway, by 31-0 to start the second half of the Group 4 state semifinals - and that group nearly took down the Friars in the final despite losing star guard Brian Earl with five fouls late in the third quarter.

Lenape was 28-0 and came out as flat as a countertop and lost to Bloomfield Tech in the T of C quarterfinals in 2004. The Indians that year were a case study for the downside of the T of C - it's anticlimactic for a lot of teams and can blemish an otherwise pristine season.

Lenape's remarkable run in girls' soccer in recent years included a 25-0 season in 2008.

"We clearly tried to win every game and never had the mentality that losing one game was a good thing to 'get it out of the way,' " Lenape coach Kevin Meder said. "We never viewed it as a burden, but rather a positive in that we were playing well and it was going to take another team's best effort to beat us."

Eastern field hockey has fashioned numerous undefeated seasons under Danyle Heilig, and so has Moorestown girls' lacrosse under Deanna Knobloch.

Football is a different situation. There are just 12 games, tops, and the nature of the sport enables teams with more size, speed, and talent to handle opponents. That's why the best NFL teams are 14-2 (winning percentage: 87.5) and the best major-league baseball teams are 101-61 (winning percentage: 60.3).

Basketball, baseball, and soccer are long seasons, with lots of games that turn on bounces and breaks - a referee's whistle here, a ricochet in the box there, a bloop single and a seeing-eye bleeder over there.

Baseball teams have the challenge of the Diamond Classic in the regular season, plus a team such as Gloucester Catholic (which has its sights set on a perfect record this season) will play in a prestigious tournament such as the Bishop Gorman Easter Classic in Las Vegas.

Soccer teams have the Coaches Association tournament and its draining demands before the state tournament. Basketball teams have the T of C after the state tournament.

Wire to wire, undefeated from Day One to the hoisting of that trophy on the last day - that's tough, tough duty.

But everybody starts the season the same way, in optimistic pursuit of that elusive goal.


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223,, or on Twittter @PhilAnastasia. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at

Continue Reading