TOMS RIVER - Christian Brothers Academy junior Liam Kennedy not only acknowledged his team's 17-point loss to Neptune the last time the teams met on Feb. 6, but even went as far as saying it felt like a 30-point loss.

No matter what the score was 12 days earlier or even in the third quarter during Sunday's Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal against the Scarlet Fliers at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, the Colts kept believing this time would be different and eventually, their perseverance paid off.

CBA rallied from a nine-point deficit late in the third quarter and took the lead for good with 1:04 left on the way to a 52-45 win in the rubber match between the two Shore Conference Class A North rivals. The fifth-seeded Colts will play No. 1 Ranney in the SCT semifinals on Thursday in Toms River.

PHOTO GALLERY: CBA vs. Neptune by Ray Richardson

"I feel like everybody was counting us out today," Kennedy said. "If you were at that game (on Feb. 6), it was only 17 points, but it felt like 30. In practice, we put in three new defenses to stifle their pick-and-rolls, which was killing us the first two times we played them. We watched a lot of film and I think we were better prepared for this one."

Kennedy led CBA with 17 points and hit four consecutive free throws to put the game on ice in the final minute, but it was junior Stephen Braunstein who came up with a scoring bunch that pushed CBA in front late in the fourth quarter.

Braunstein scored six of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and nine in the final 8:30 including his three-pointer in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter to pull CBA within 41-37.

He also put CBA ahead twice on two different occasions in the fourth. His drive to the basket plus the foul with 2:50 left not only gave CBA its first lead since the end of the first quarter, but it also drew the fourth foul on Neptune's 6-foot-8 senior standout Jared Kimbrough.

Kimbrough responded with a basket on the other end to give Neptune a 45-44 lead, but picked up his fifth foul with 1:45 left to send junior Josh Cohen to the line.

After Cohen hit one of two foul shots to tie the game at 45, CBA held Neptune on the the defensive end and Braunstein then earned a trip to the free-throw line and converted his two attempts to give the Colts the lead for good, 47-45, with 1:04 left.

Neptune failed to score once Kimbrough went to the bench, with CBA closing the game on an 8-0 run and outscoring Neptune, 15-4, in the final quarter.

"(With Kimbrough out), we put Josh on a perimeter guy and put (Rob) Mahala on Kobe Blake because we knew he was going to be the guy setting the ball screens," CBA coach Geoff Billet said. "That was went could just switch on the screen and have Mahala switch onto whoever was handling the ball."

CBA's 53-36 loss at Neptune on Feb. 6 was rooted in an off-shooting night for a Colts team that boasts four shooters around the 6-9 Cohen. They again started the game cold from the outside, with the exception of Kennedy. CBA was 3-for-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, but was 1-for-8 without Kennedy, who finished 3-for-4 from three-point range for the game.

"When Liam is playing well, we are pretty tough to beat," Billet said. "He's played really well the last two games for us and it just seemed like any time we needed a bit of a boost today, he was the one that got us going with a big shot or a deflection."

The Colts caught fire as a team in the third, going 4-for-6 from three-point range, with senior Nolan Madden hitting two. Madden and Braunstein hit back-to-back three-pointers at the end of the third to help pull CBA within 41-37 heading to the fourth quarter after the Colts fell behind, 38-29, with under three minutes to go.

"The difference was we made some shots today," Kennedy said. "I think we made two threes the last time we played them and today, we had four starters hit at least one. That really helped."

Kimbrough led Neptune with 17 points, nearly doubling up his counterpart, Cohen in the scoring column. Cohen, however, was instrumental in getting Kimbrough in early foul trouble and finished off his day by drawing his fifth foul in the last two minutes. Kimbrough picked up his first two fouls within the first minute of the game and sat until after the three-minute mark in the first quarter.

"Offensively, early, we wanted to establish Josh," Billet said. "Josh hasn't had a ton of success against (Kimbrough) this year, but we wanted to go at him to get the two fouls. One was an offensive foul, but the first one was the one Josh drew, which was big."

Junior Dwaine Jones scored all nine of his points in the first half, while senior Scott Fields and freshman Sam Fagan added eight apiece for Neptune.

It is not often CBA is a heavy underdog in a Shore Conference Tournament game, but the Colts will get to try out that role on Thursday against Ranney.

"I told them to enjoy this win because I have a lot of respect for Neptune after playing them three times," Billet said. "We're giving them a day off to rest their legs and then starting on Tuesday, we're a team with nothing to lose. Not too many opportunities for CBA to go into a semifinal game with nothing to lose, but it is what it is. It's a scenario where (Ranney is) definitely the favorite, but we'll have a couple days to come up with something."

 

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