The two plays couldn’t have been more different. Both were classic Camden Catholic.
One was textbook execution, a whiteboard drawing of an offensive set sprung to life.
One was a mad scramble, guys diving on the floor, the basketball bouncing this way and that.
Put them together, and they added up to the difference for Camden Catholic in a 57-54 victory over visiting Camden on Thursday in an Olympic National clash of Top 6 teams.
“We don’t win pretty,” Camden Catholic coach Matt Crawford said. “But we made just enough plays to win. That’s what we do.”
The victory was the 20th in 21 games for Camden Catholic (23-3, 6-2 division), the No. 4 team in the Inquirer Top 25, and also clinched outright possession of the Olympic National title.
Senior guard Valen Tejada bounced off the bench to score 15 points and senior forward Uche Okafor added 19 for Camden Catholic, which will be the No. 4 seed and host No. 5 Christian Brothers in its Non-Public South A tournament opener next Thursday.
“We know we’re going to play close games in the tournament,” Crawford said. “This game will help prepare us. It was a great high school basketball game.”
Sophomore swingman Jerome Brewer made four three-pointers and finished with 21 points and junior forward Lance Ware added 14 points with seven rebounds for No. 6 Camden (14-9, 5-3).
The Panthers, who are 6-8 in their last 14, played with 32 minutes of focus and competitive fire, a good sign for the state tournament, according to their coach.
“I loved our attitude from start to finish,” Camden coach Vic Carstarphen said. “We came to play today, so hats off to Camden Catholic. They won a tough game.”
Camden will be the No. 2 seed and host No. 15 Manchester Township in a South Jersey Group 2 opener on Monday.
“It’s a new season now,” Carstarphen said after the last game of his first regular season in charge of the fabled program.
Tejada and Okafor were front and center in the two decisive plays.
The first was a battle for a loose ball created by Camden Catholic senior Baba Ajike, who generated 12 points with five rebounds and also was 5-for-6 from the foul line.
With Camden Catholic trailing by six with less than three minutes to play, Ajike poked the basketball free and hit the floor in pursuit of possession.
“In close games, the loose balls are what counts,” Okafor said.
Tejada came up with the basketball and needed one dribble to deposit a layup that cut Camden’s lead to 51-47 at the 2:47 mark.
“Coach was talking after the game and he said, ‘That’s Camden Catholic basketball,’” Tejada said.
After a clutch three-pointer from sophomore Zach Hicks, Camden Catholic took its first lead since the first quarter on a familiar play -- an interior screen, seal, entry pass, layup.
The Irish have run the same play for decades, and this one resulted in a pass from senior guard Pat Corbett to Okafor, who deposited a left-handed baby hook for a 52-51 lead with 1:40 left.
“We defended that well all game, but they got a seal there,” Carstarphen said.
Camden Catholic closed out the victory by going 5-for-6 from the foul line in the final 31 seconds, another trademark of the team’s success.
“You know they’re not missing those foul shots at the end,” Carstarphen said.
Camden 20 11 13 10 – 54
Camden Catholic 17 11 10 19 – 57
C: Ethan Tarte 9, Jerome Brewer 21, Lance Ware 14, TaQuan Woodley 10, El Khana Hidalgo 0.