HADDON TOWNSHIP — Taj Thweatt’s teammates are used to seeing him dunk.
On Sunday afternoon, he changed it up on them.
The 6-foot-7 junior sank a pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers to propel Wildwood Catholic High School to a 60-51 win over Eastern Regional in a Paul VI Winter Classic boys basketball game.
Wildwood Catholic (22-1) is ranked No. 1 in The Press Elite 11.
Thweatt finished with 22 points. Junior guard Jahlil White scored 23.
“It picks my energy,” Thweatt said of his 3-pointers. “It picks up the team. Last year, I played inside. I didn’t have an outside game. They (his teammates) like to see me shoot.”
Thweatt is known for his high-flying dunks. His two 3-pointers Sunday were among the biggest shots he has made from beyond the arc this season.
He didn’t hesitate on either shot despite having missed his only two 3s in the first half.
Thweatt’s first 3 came from the left wing and put the Crusaders up 40-39 with 7 minutes, 22 seconds left in the game. His second came with 6:31 left and gave Wildwood Catholic a 43-41 lead it never relinquished.
“He can shoot. He doesn’t care how much I yell at him,” Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese said with a laugh about Thweatt’s perimeter shots. “He still shoots it, and he can make it. His perimeter shooting has improved. We have confidence in him. When he’s open, and he’s feeling it, we let him go.”
The Paul VI Winter Classic was a showcase event that featured several of South Jersey’s top teams. Eastern (17-5) is the top seed in the South Jersey Group IV bracket.
The Vikings led 37-29 with 2:38 left in the third quarter. Eastern had surrounded Thweatt inside and held him to just two points in the first half. The Crusaders, however, outscored Eastern 31-14 in the game’s final 10 minutes.
“We’ve been down a couple of times like this (this season), and we know how to handle it,” Thweatt said. “We don’t worry. We just focus on every play.”
With the win, Wildwood Catholic finished one of the best regular seasons in school history. The Crusaders played one of South Jersey’s toughest nonleague schedules. Wildwood Catholic should be the No. 1 seed when the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament starts Friday. The Crusaders are also the No. 1 seed in the S.J. Non-Public B bracket.
“This was far beyond our expectations,” DeWeese said. “If you had asked me in the beginning of the season where we would be, I would have never have said this given our schedule. But credit to these kids. They found a way to win tough games, and going into both tournaments we’re a pretty-seasoned team.”
Wildwood Catholic;6 12 19 23—60
Eastern;11 11 17 12—51
WC — Thweatt 22, McGonigle 2, Lopez 2, White 23, Hopping 9, Zarfatti 2
E — Heck 7, Winsett 9, Klinewski 17, Ems 10, Pendergast 4, Lynch 4