By Phil Anastasia
Inquirer Staff Writer
TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- It wasn't the best game of De'Shaun Burgess' athletic career.
It might have been the most memorable.
Burgess, a senior guard, scored eight points to help Paulsboro to a 51-50 victory over Shore Regional in a Group 1 state semifinal thriller on Thursday night at Toms River North.
The victory was special for all the Red Raiders, given the team's losses in this same game at this same site in 2012 and 2013.
Senior Brandon Hamilton scored 11 and registered Paulsboro's final points with a pair of free throws as the Red Raiders advanced to face University in the Group 1 state title game Sunday at Rutgers.
Senior Saleem Little scored 12 with seven rebounds and senior Theo Holloway added 11 with six rebounds and three assists for Paulsboro (29-2), which will be seeking its first state title since football star Kevin Harvey (who sat behind the Paulsboro bench on Thursday night) led the Red Raiders to the 1996 crown.
Burgess is a football star, too. He led Paulsboro to the South Jersey Group 1 title in that sport, running for 191 yards and a touchdown in a 21-0 victory over Salem in the sectional championship game in early December.
But Thursday night's game held extra significance for Burgess because he said it was the first time his father, Derrick Burgess, saw him play a sport.
"I started playing sports when I was 7 and I'm 18 and this is the first time he saw me play," Burgess said. "I'm glad he was able to see me do something special."
Burgess said he was born and raised in Cleveland. He said he moved to New Jersey when he was seven, as his father was imprisoned in Ohio.
Burgess said his father was in prison for 10 years and was released in August. But because of the terms of probation, he was unable to leave Ohio and travel to New Jersey until this year, Burgess said.
"I wished he could have seen me play football -- that's my sport," Burgess said.
Paulsboro coach Sean Collins said it was "super important" to Burgess to play in front of his father.
Collins said the 5-foot-10 Burgess is "not a basketball player -- he's an athlete."
Burgess made plays at both ends of the court in Paulsboro's most pressure-packed game of the season.
The Red Raiders couldn't shake Central Jersey champion Shore (21-6) , which got 31 points from smooth senior swingman Dan Largey.
"Not to take anything away from Shore but there's something about this court," Collins said. "I'm not superstitious but I was walking off the court at halftime and I'm thinking, 'There might be a stigma here.'"
Burgess said it was an "emotional game" for all the Red Raiders, especially the seniors, because of the team's losses at this round of the tournament in 2012 and 2013.
Burgess grabbed three rebounds, dished three assists and made three steals. He hit a big three-pointer in the third quarter, and his driving layup midway in the fourth quarter gave the Red Raiders 49-44 lead.
"Saleem, Theo, Brandon -- basketball is their thing," Burgess said. "I feel like I'm pretty good but I try to play my role."
"It definitely means a lot to me," Burgess said of playing in front of his father. "I'm glad he was able to come because it's getting to be the end of my high school career.
"Hopefully, he'll be able to see me play one more game."
Shore 13 13 11 13 -- 50
Paulsboro 15 11 15 10 -- 51
S: Rob Gialanella 2, Jack Byrne 8, Dan Largey 31, Matt McCarthy 0, Kevin Bloodgood 9.
P: Brandon Hamilton 11, Theo Holloway 11, Saleem Little 12, De'Shaun Burgess 8, Dehron Holloway 2, Cherron Charles 2, Tyrique King 2, DeVon Williams 3.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org