Posted 2:45 a.m.
Before I get to basketball, there were two more football signings from Wednesday to announce. Matawan linebacker/fullback Jamiel Sims is headed to Wagner, and his Huskies teammate, wide receiver Kyle Hardy, will join Colts Neck linebacker Sean Smith and St. Peter’s Prep quarterback Justin Perez (a Freehold Twp. resident) at C.W. Post. Congrats to both of them.
Now, on to Thursday night, where there were plenty of interesting games, headlined by the performances of the Middletown South boys and girls teams.
I’ll star with the girls, who rolled Freehold, 51-33, in a nondivisional game behind 32 points from senior Danielle Pankey, the reigning All Shore Media Player of the Week, who also helped limit the Shore Conference’s leading scorer, Freehold forward Shannon Mayrose, who was in foul trouble all game. That win certainly adds to Middletown South’s Shore Conference Tournament seeding resume and continues some scorching-hot play as they also knocked off Rumson. Pankey is playing her way right into the All-Shore discussion with two big games in high-profile wins, and she has shown that she can be a force offensively and defensively. She always could put it on the floor and get to the basket, but her improved outside shooting has made the difference as she nailed five threes in the win over the Colonials.
Tom Brennan‘s crew is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time as it seems to have taken consecutive losses to Middletown North and Southern to heart and has come roaring back into the SCT seeding picture. I’m sure Southern is quietly loving every minute of it because the Rams have a nice bargaining chip in that SCT seeding meeting with every impressive South victory.
Also on the girls side, a few non-suspenseful division titles were wrapped up as Neptune, which is currently without sophomore guard Syessence Davis as she recuperates from a broken nose, routed Wall to claim the outright Class B North championship and St. Rose rolled past Mater Dei to clinch the Class B Central non-public title. Keyport’s win over Asbury Park means that the Red Raiders need to knock off Academy Charter in their final game before the state cut-off on Saturday to qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs, while Brick now has to beat Central on Friday night to get in after being knocked off by Lacey, which has become a real thorn in some teams’ sides with some good late-season play.
On the boys side, injuries continue to play a significant role as No. 8 Middletown South knocked off No. 3 Freehold, 58-45, in a nondivisional game as the Colonials were without their main inside presence, junior forward Christian Garcia, who was out with a sprained ankle suffered on Monday in a win over Monmouth. Meanwhile, Middletown South welcomed back its main inside presence, 6-5 junior Kyle Cancillieri, from a broken nose, and he dropped in a game-high 18 points to get the win. South certainly knows what it’s like to lose a key game while short-handed as it fell to Rumson on Saturday without Cancillieri. That’s a big win for the Eagles’ SCT seeding hopes, and I also think it helps Neptune in its quest to cement the No. 2 seed because the Scarlet Fliers have a win over the Eagles while Freehold now has a loss to them. I continue to say that the Eagles have the goods to make a run to the SCT final (unless they run into CBA in the semis) as long as everyone stays healthy.
Garcia is expected to return soon, so at least Freehold won’t be without him for long. Colonials coach Ben DiBiase is also a no-excuses guy so I’m sure he is not writing this loss off just because they didn’t have Garcia. They still expected to win.
I took in Monsignor Donovan‘s 43-41 win over Point Boro in front of a packed house down at Mon Don with two good student cheering sections. The Griffins kicked off a stretch in which they play No. 5 Point Boro, No. 2 Neptune and No. 10 Lakewood in succession, and they can now take the overall Class B South title outright with a win over Lakewood at home on Monday and then a victory over Pinelands in their final divisional game.
Mon Don sophomore point guard Sean Grennan continues to impress, as he had a game-high 19 points. You can tell that Grennan really worked hard in the off-season to add to his game. He can catch and shoot from mid-range and behind the arc, he can get to the rim, and he has a nice fadeaway off the dribble from about 15 feet that is becoming automatic. He also will pull the trigger off the dribble from behind the arc and does a nice job of using his body and inside-out dribbles to create space between him and a defender. Other than packing on more size, I think his other main area for improvement looks to be defensively, but his offensive game now has a ton more variety than it did last season and that is a testament to his hard work on his game.
I also like the size and athletic ability of sophomore forward Anthony Duszczak, who is about 6-5 and is a good leaper. He’s still feeling his way offensively, but the more aggressive he becomes, the more dangerous he will be. The inside-outside tandem of Duszczak and Grennan could be a fearsome one in the not-too-distant future. Junior Ryan Milana also had a solid game with some big free throws near the end, and he just has that bulldog, football mentality that every successful team needs.
Point Boro’s Pat Hart had 13 points after dropping 29 on Mon Don the first time around, but I think that was more because of Point Boro’s limited possessions. When you work the ball around the perimeter for 30-35 seconds at a time before a shot, you’re not going to get a ton of chances to score, especially if the other team is also methodical offensively. Hart has one of the better post-up games of any guard in the Shore, as once he gets a shorter defender pinned on his hip, it’s over. I know there was a lot of howling over the no-call when Hart got into the lane in the final seconds and ended up throwing up an off-balance jumper that fell short after making some contact with Milana, but after watching the video a couple times, the contact with Milana was not that significant. If any foul might have been called, it should have been on one of the two defenders who bumped Hart when he split a double team off the dribble before getting into the lane. Still, it’s a judgement call, and it went Mon Don’s way.
Point Boro coach Kevin Hynes wasn’t exactly thrilled about that no-call after the game, but he felt his team gave a good performance, it just came down to a few little things. It’s always interesting to see how different coaches view this public/non-public division title stuff. A lot of the coaches in A North value the public (i.e., non-CBA) title and consider it a good accomplishment, whereas in other divisions, coaches could care less about winning a title if it’s not the overall title. When informed that Point Boro could still win a share of the Class B South public title even if Mon Don all but clinches the overall (and the non-public) title with a win over Lakewood on Monday, Hynes looked like I wrapped a turd in a box and told him to have a Merry Christmas. I guess the Panthers won’t be springing for “Class B South public co-champs” jackets if they end up tied with Lakewood behind Mon Don in the end.
Brick Memorial received an unexpected gift when it was able to clinch the Class A South title outright by virtue of a 72-68 win over Southern and a loss by a reeling Toms River North team to a sub-.500 Jackson Memorial squad. Senior Matt O’Brien dropped 25 for the Mustangs, who are getting hot at the right time with the SCT looming.
CBA also squeaked by Marlboro, 90-47, to clinch the overall Class A North title, believed to be its 8 billionth division title. Right now it’s just the Colts and everyone else in the Shore. Raritan clinched its state playoff berth with a win over Shore Regional, which now has to beat Red Bank Regional on Saturday to earn its berth in the state playoffs.
Congrats to Howell, which earned a rare state playoff berth of its own by routing Allentown. If I’m not mistaken, Howell’s last state playoff berth was the year I started covering Shore hoops way back when in 1999-2000, so great job by head coach Brian Quick and a team led by guards Tom Callahan and one of the most underrated sophomores in the conference, guard Ryan Keegan. Also congrats to a young Manchester team for clinching its spot in the playoffs with a nice win over Central.
Freehold Township beat Manalapan in a game that has an interesting wrinkle in that Patriots senior Matt Devine, one of the Shore’s top scorers, lives in Manalapan, but that part of Manalapan is districted for Freehold Township (only in bizarro world the Freehold Regional District). He had 21 in the victory.
Asbury Park almost got caught looking ahead to Friday night’s showdown on the road with Point Beach in Class B Central as it edged Keyport, 42-39. That would have dented the Blue Bishops’ SCT seeding case pretty hard had they lost, but now they can stay on a roll by beating the Garnet Gulls, who are looking for their most significant win of the season.
After a loss to St. Rose, Mater Dei now has its back against the wall and must win against Jackson Memorial on Saturday to get into the state playoffs. The Seraphs couldn’t have been excited to see that the Jaguars are playing well as they upset Toms River North.
A team that has been the definition of under the radar, Long Branch, routed Keansburg to get into the state playoffs as well, so congrats to the Green Wave.
Finally, I hope you took some time out of your night to watch that Celtics-Lakers OT thriller on TNT. Great game, featuring some cold-blooded jumpers from Kobe Bryant down the stretch. I am an unabashed NBA fan along with Miss All Shore Media (the biggest Lakers fan this side of Jack Nicholson), as we are probably the only people in Monmouth County who have NBA League Pass that gets us all of the games even though I am a Knicks fan and can get their games on MSG. So yes, that means I’m the guy watching Sacramento-Golden State at 1 in the morning while I’m writing for this site. If you can’t get fired up watching LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett or Kevin Durant (who I love) and others on a regular basis, you don’t like basketball.
However, I feel like being an NBA fan is seen as some kind of mental illness at this point by the so-called purists. I remember telling a hoops junkie like Holmdel coach Sean Devaney that I loved the NBA way more than college hoops (which is only good for gambling during March Madness but fairly boring until then) and he looked at me like I said that I enjoyed punching puppies in the face. The egos and the individualism gets to a lot of people, but I love every minute of it, even Oklahoma City vs. Minnesota. The Knicks are even watchable at this point for crying out loud, and I’ll take David Lee and Wilson Chandler (and hopefully LeBron) on my team any day. One day I will write a full treatise to the NBA on this blog just to annoy everyone singing the praises of the college game and its no-name players (although I wish the best for all Shore grads playing in college), just to drive everyone nuts.