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Three Wildwood Catholic grads narrowly miss NCAA Tournament field

Posted: March 18th 2024

Wildwood Catholic graduate Caleb Fields of Fairfield drives to the basket against a Marist player in a MAAC semifinal game at Boardwalk Hall. (photo from MAAC athletics website)

By BRIAN CUNNIFF

CapeAtlanticLive.com

Caleb Fields, Jahlil White and Taj Thweatt, former teammates at Wildwood Catholic High School, and their respective college basketball teams came up just short in their attempts to qualify for the NCAA Tournament over the weekend.

With many of his friends, family and former coaches in attendance, Fields and Fairfield lost a close game to St. Peter’s in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championship game Saturday evening at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Meanwhile, White, Thweatt and Temple enjoyed a magical Cinderella ride through the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, before losing in the title game to Alabama-Birmingham on Sunday.

Conference tournament winners receive automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.

Fairfield opened a lead as large as 10 points at 39-29 early in the second half of Saturday’s MAAC title game against St. Peter’s, only to see the Peacocks reel off a 30-11 run to take the lead for good en route to a 68-63 win.

Fields was brilliant in the loss, posting 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists, all team highs. His traditional three-point play with 40 seconds remaining brought Fairfield within a point at 64-63, but the Stags didn’t score again.

CALEB FIELDS

Fields, a 6-2 guard, was named to the all-tournament team for his efforts throughout the tournament. Had Fairfield won the title game, Fields most likely would have earned tournament MVP honors. He scored a game-high 22 points and dished four assists in Fairfield’s 65-61 semifinal win over Marist. In a 68-63 quarterfinal win over Iona, Fields produced 20 points and seven rebounds, scoring eight of his points in the final two minutes of the game.

Fairfield (22-12) has accepted a bid to the Ro College Basketball Invitational Tournament and will face Little Rock on Sunday. The entire 16-team tournament is being held in Daytona Beach, Fla.

For the season, Fields is averaging 16.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He has made 100 three-pointers this season, becoming just the second Fairfield player in program history to reach the century mark in three-point field goals in a season. 

A graduate student on track to earn a master’s degree in business administration this spring, Fields is in his final year of college eligibility. He transferred to Fairfield prior to last season after playing at and earning an undergraduate degree from Bowling Green.

White, Thweatt and Temple entered the AAC Tournament at just 12-19 and were seeded 11th out of 14 teams. But that didn’t stop the Owls from going on an extraordinary run through the tournament.

After knocking off University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in the opening round, Temple went on to beat three higher-seeded teams to win four games in as many days and reach the AAC title game. Included in the run was a 74-73 win over top-seeded Florida Atlantic in the semifinal round.

The Owls couldn’t recreate that magic in the title game, trailing from start to finish in an 85-69 loss to UAB.

JAHLIL WHITE

White, a 6-7 redshirt junior forward, appeared in all four tournament games as a reserve player and posted 23 points, 18 rebounds, six assists over the course of the tournament. His best game statistically came in a 75-60 quarterfinal win over Southern Methodist when he recorded 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.

White, on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in May, averaged 10.1 points and 5.5 rebounds for Temple this season.

Thweatt, a 6-7 redshirt junior forward, did not see action in the AAC Tournament. He appeared in 11 games this season, posting eight points and 10 rebounds.

Temple’s season is complete. The Owls finished 16-20.

TAJ THWEATT

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