COLTS NECK - Starting for the first time in his varsity career - and on opening night, no less - Colts Neck junior Andrew Abujawdeh did not want his excitement to deter him from just doing his part within an experienced Cougars lineup against a dangerous Howell team.

On this particular night, Abujawdeh's role in his first start turned out to be that of leading scorer in a winning effort.

Abujawdeh scored Colts Neck's first seven points and poured in a career-high 19 to help the Cougars - ranked No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - beat the Rebels, 60-51, on opening night in game in which they never trailed.

Colts Neck junior Andrew Abujawdeh. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We were all looking forward to this game tonight," Abujawdeh said. "I was pumped knowing I was starting, but I was just focused on doing my job within what our team was trying to do. The way our team works, if everyone does what their supposed to do, then any of us could lead the team in scoring."

Howell took a timeout after Abujawdeh scored six quick points to open the game and his free throw began another 7-0 that pushed the Colts Neck lead to 13-0 by the 3:25 mark left in the first quarter.

The junior guard later scored 10 points in the second half, including a three-point play and a backdoor layup less than a minute apart that both extended the Colts Neck lead to seven points late in the fourth quarter.

Abujawdeh's starting opportunity came because senior guard Ben Bosland missed nearly a week of practice with an ailment that Colts Neck coach Lou Piccola said was undisclosed. Bosland, who averaged eight points, six rebounds and five assists last year, came off the bench to post 11 points and six assists.

"He's a steadying presence," Piccola said of Bosland. "He's a six-three point guard getting rebounds, setting guys up, going to the basket. It's tough when you take eight points, seven rebounds and five assists off the floor. We weren't sure what he was going to be able to do tonight because he hadn't practiced but he looked pretty close to what we expect him to be."

According to Piccola, Abujawdeh might have started anyway but he did not have to make the decision with Bosland's absence this week.

Colts Neck senior Ben Bosland. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We share the ball," Piccola said. "When you move the ball, a lot of guys have a chance to score and we have a few guys who can have a game like that. Andrew earned a chance to start and honestly, we all know he's capable of a game like that. We have five or six guys who can score 20 on a given night and it's because nobody's worried about scoring 20."

Howell got back into the game quickly by going to a smaller lineup with athletic guard Eddie Morales and senior Dante Lanzetta off the bench. The Rebels closed the gap from 13-0 to 17-12 by the end of the first quarter and three-pointers on three consecutive possessions by Morales, junior Matt Ganter and Lanzetta pulled Howell even, 21-21, early in the second quarter.

Colts Neck responded with a 10-1 run to regain control of the game and took a 31-26 lead into halftime.

Senior Zach Albom added 10 points for Colts Neck while seniors Danny Gaines and Robby Hill each chipped in eight in the win.

Senior Brandon Wilson led Howell with 17 points in his return to his hometown team. Wilson spent his junior year on Mater Dei Prep's Shore Conference Tournament championship team.

Ganter added 11 points and senior Nasiem Brantley netted nine in the loss.

Colts Neck's players and coaches were eager to start this season after ending last year in heartbreaking fashion. The Cougars lost to Middletown North on a three-pointer at the buzzer in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV Tournament.

"I've been looking forward to tonight for months," Piccola said. "Ending the way we did last year and bringing a lot of those guys back, I wanted to get on the floor so bad. So to come out today and get as good an overall team win as you're going to see is very satisfying."


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