HADDONFIELD (N.J.) - 2022 South Jersey Sports Zone Boys Basketball Rookie of the Year Emmanuel Joe-Samuel tends to save his best performances for the biggest stages.
As a freshman, Joe-Samuel went off for season-high 27 points in a statement win over St. Joseph (Hammonton). He notched a career-best 31 points in a triumph over Notre Dame on January 7.
And his latest signature performance was published just yesterday.
Joe-Samuel scored 27 of his career-high 35 points in the second half as the Eagles erased a 10-point deficit in the second quarter to grab a 61-57 victory over Philadelphia Catholic League power St. Joseph's Prep on Saturday afternoon.
Paul VI (9-5 record) won its fourth straight contest after a 61-59 loss to Olympic National rival Camden Catholic and has won seven out of its last eight games.
The Eagles jumped out to a 12-10 lead after one quarter before St. Joseph's Prep seized control.
Isaiah Thomas provided Paul VI with a one-point advantage early in the second quarter, but the Hawks regained the lead with a triple from Jordan Ellerbee.
Deptford transfer Josh Eli tied the contest at 16-16 with a strong finish in the lane, but it wasn't enough to slow down a 15-6 run by the Hawks that created a 10-point margin.
Ellerbee scored eight out of his 14 points in the second period for St. Joseph's Prep.
Joe-Samuel connected on a long-range shot to cut the deficit to six points at halftime and spark his late-game surge.
The Eagles trailed for the entire second half until the reigning SJ Sports Zone Rookie of the Year drained a 3-pointer to give his team a 48-47 lead with 5:23 left to play.
Paul VI didn't look back.
The Eagles minimized their turnovers over the final two quarters and allowed Joe-Samuel to utilize the slightest bit of space to knock down jump shots off the dribble.
"First, we were able to cut down on the turnovers we've been having all year," Joe-Samuel said. "Shots started falling, the team started finding me better. It just started happening. I try to stay locked in and not let it get to my head. We still got to pull out the win eventually."
Jaron McKie, the son of current Temple coach and former Philadelphia 76ers guard Aaron McKie, nailed a three-pointer from the left wing out of a timeout to cut the Hawks' deficit to 53-51 with 23.2 seconds left in the fourth stanza.
McKie scored a team-high 23 points for St. Joseph's Prep including five 3-pointers.
Joe-Samuel left no doubt as he responded with a pair of free throws to secure the triumph.
The sophomore thrived off the ecstatic energy of the cheerleaders and fans in the second half, and would constantly illustrate his satisfaction with facial expressions and gestures geared towards the home crowd.
"I try to cut out distractions," Joe-Samuel said. "Once in a while, it's good to get the fans going because that just pumps you and your team up."
Thomas added 14 points in the triumph and Eli contributed seven.
The Eagles are also getting healthy at the right time.
"We struggled in the beginning of the year," Paul VI coach Tony Devlin said. "We didn't have all five of our guys healthy in the beginning of the year, and we have probably in the last two weeks, so they're getting used to playing with each other. They're a young team still and our goal is to just get a little bit better each game."
The Eagles' coaching staff uses a grading system to evaluate players in different categories to measure performance. As of late, Devlin's group has aced the 'passion' portion of the assessment.
"We score them in a couple different categories, one being passion," Devlin said. "They've been a 9 or 10 out of 10 for (the category of) passion in the last four or five games. They've been used to playing hard. That's the one thing we've done well."