By Bobby Klatt - Shore Sports Network contributor

LONG BRANCH - After struggling to close out wins against high-level opponents early this season, Neptune halted that trend by jumping out early and never looking back in upsetting one of its oldest rivals, previously undefeated Lakewood, 50-44, at Saturday's Boardwalk Hoop Group Showcase.

In front of a full crowd at Long Branch High School, Neptune took on a Piners team ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 that was looking to grab its eighth straight win to start the season. Sophomore guard Barry Brown, a transfer from Cardinal McCarrick, continued his emergence with a game-high 18 points to earn Most Valuable Player honors for the Scarlet Fliers (4-5), one game after scoring 19 in a loss to Red Bank Catholic.

Neptune sophomore guard Barry Brown was named the Scarlet Fliers' MVP with a game-high 18 points in an upset over previously undefeated Lakewood. (Photo by B51 Photography)

"Teamwork and patience are the most important things for this team,” Brown said. “Patience really played a big role in today’s game. That’s the only way we are going to win games.”

After Neptune zoomed out to a 15-2 lead at the end of the first quarter as Brown and freshman Jared Kimbrough combined for 11 of Neptune’s first quarter points. The lead grew to 24-6 with three minutes left in the half before Lakewood went on a 14-5 run to close the second quarter and trim the lead to 29-20 at the break.

“Getting off to good starts hasn’t been an issue for us,'' Neptune coach Joe Fagan said. "We’ve been able to do that in almost every game so far. The message has been no matter what, stay together. We have to be able to pick each other up because basketball is a game of runs. It’s how you react to those runs.”

Ryan Lawrence had a team-high 17 points in the loss for Lakewood. (Photo by B51 Photography)

Neptune kept the lead at seven at the end of the third before the Piners closed the gap. Lakewood came out firing and opened up the fourth with a 7-2 run behind five straight points by senior guard Ryan Lawrence, who was Lakewood's MVP with 17 points, to cut the lead to 42-40. That was the first time the Piners were within one possession since being down 2-0 at the beginning of the game, but Neptune never let them tie it.

A key turning point in the game, midway through the fourth quarter, came when Lakewood junior standout Amir Tyler fouled out with 4:33 left in the game after having scored 15 points. Neptune turned it on defensively from that point forward as Lakewood was held to only four points in the final 4:30. Also, missed lay-ups and free throws cost the Piners throughout the game. They missed more than 20 layups and putbacks and shot only 50 percent from the foul line.

While Neptune entered the game shooting 46 percent from the foul line as a team, the Scarlet Fliers stepped up in crunch time from the charity stripe, as Brown and twins Kerry and Keishawn Kirkwood made six free throws in the final minute to seal the win.

“We are still learning and coming together as a team,” Fagan said. “We haven’t played a full 32 minutes until today. We haven’t played great on the inside, but (Micah) Kerr, (Marcque) Ellington and Kimbrough really stepped up. They just need to perform like this every night.”

“We always are expecting a physical game,” said Brown. “That’s what Neptune is, physical basketball. We know how important rebounds are. That’s like our food, we need it to survive.”