BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP - Arnaldo Rodriguez has a knack for knocking down key shots in critical moments.
He did it in a statement win over St. Augustine last winter. He did it as a freshman against Middle Township two seasons ago.
The St. Joseph Academy junior did it again, twice, on Wednesday night.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats were able to erase an 11-point halftime deficit with increased defensive intensity in the second half and surge past No. 9 Burlington Township for a 49-41 victory.
Rodriguez scored with 28 seconds remaining in the third quarter to give St. Joseph it’s first lead of the game and also hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Wildcats the lead for good with 4:15 left to play. St. Joe’s only initiated two lead changes over the course of Wednesday night’s contest and Rodriguez was responsible for both occurrences.
“Arnaldo’s been doing that since literally as a freshman,” St. Joseph coach Paul Rodio said. “We were down at Middle Township, I threw him in a game, and he had to make a one-and-one because someone got thrown out of a game or some ridiculous scenario. In that moment, he made both and sealed the game. He’s done it as a sophomore at the Prep, he’s done it in every big game. I was actually all over him at halftime (tonight) and he responded.”
The junior scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half.
“I just had to stay confident throughout the whole game,” Rodriguez said. “At halftime, the coach got on me a little bit. I knew my shots were gonna fall at the end so again I just had to stay confident. The more my confidence goes up, the more I see the ball go in the rim.”
Ja’son Prevard led St. Joseph with a game-high 16 points and contributed four assists and four rebounds. Qiani Bowens provided a spark off the bench and scored eight of his 10 points in the second half.
The Wildcats limited Burlington Township to only three field goals in the second half and outscored their opponents 34-15 over the final two quarters. Devon Theophile tallied 10 rebounds and four blocks to help neutralize the Falcons’ physicality and production on the interior.
“This group has been really resilient,” Rodio said. “(Burlington Township) just has unbelievable athletes, they’re really intimidating, they’re blocking shots. I was all over us at halftime because I think we were getting caught up in the moment. Once we settled in, I thought the hole might’ve been too steep, but the kids proved me wrong.”
St. Joseph picked up its fourth consecutive win following a two-game skid that included a loss to No. 3 Egg Harbor Township and a stunning 69-66 setback to Lower Cape May on January 18. The Wildcats’ record currently sits at 11-3 with two key Cape-Atlantic League matchups looming against Mainland and Hammonton.
“We have a really tough schedule,” Rodio said. “It’s been brutal. Our league schedule is tough, the kids have been fighting. I think our chemistry is building up. I think a win like that (over Burlington Township) is just gonna jolt us to almost ‘watch out’ mode.”
Harvard football commit Jordan Dotson led the Falcons with a team-high 14 points on Wednesday night. Maurice Crump added 13.
Burlington Township’s daunting schedule continues with a divisional bout against Moorestown on Friday and a matchup with Haddonfield at the annual Jeff Coney Classic in Mount Holly on Saturday.
“I thought our kids executed very well in the first half,” Burlington Township coach Ryan Derry said. “I feel like we lost control of the game a little bit in the third quarter (and) fourth quarter with our lack of execution. We have to regroup. We’re playing for a (Burlington County Scholastic League) Liberty Division title on Friday and have another premier team in South Jersey in Haddonfield at the best showcase for South Jersey basketball on Saturday. We have to have a good practice tomorrow and get ready to rock and roll.”