Boys Basketball – Colts Neck Pulls Away from South Brunswick and Into the CJ 4 Final
COLTS NECK - Lloyd Daniels technically played in last year's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinal game at Freehold Township, but the Colts Neck senior admits he was not himself at that point in the season because of an ankle injury that sapped him of his explosiveness.
During the second half of Saturday's Central Jersey Group IV semifinal against No. 3 seed South Brunswick, Daniels and his Cougars team were the best versions of themselves will have a shot at redemption against Freehold Township because of it.
Daniels scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the second half and the No. 2 Cougars overwhelmed the Vikings in the second half to win, 67-47, and advance to a sectional final for the first time since 2012.
Colts Neck will host the No. 4 Patriots, who upset top-seeded Hunterdon Central on Saturday to return to the Central Jersey Group IV final for the second straight year. Both Freehold Regional District programs will be seeking their first ever sectional championship.
"We really felt last year was our year with the seniors we had," Daniels said. "Then I went down and I came back, but I was really never a hundred percent. That really killed me so after the season, I just thought about that injury and used it as fuel to get ready for this game.
"It's the best feeling going to the championship game and we just want to make history."
Daniels did not connect on his first field goal of the game until his drilled a top-of-the-key three-pointer in the final seconds of the first half, which pulled Colts Neck within 24-23 of the visitor heading into the halftime locker room.
The Cougars grabbed the lead back on their first possession of the second half when senior Tom O'Reilly found senior Kyle Gordon for a layup, followed by Daniels's second three-pointer of the game to ensure that Colts Neck would not trail again.
"I'm the point guard on the team, so however I play, that's going to be the result for the team," Daniels said. "I wasn't cutting hard, I wasn't bringing the ball up strong, I was making really weak passes, so coach (Lou Piccola) got into me. He said if I don't make a strong pass and cut hard, then that's on me, and that was basically it."
Daniels later closed the third with five straight Colts Neck points and the Cougars seized a 39-33 leading going to the fourth. The 16-9 third-quarter advantage was just a warm-up for Colts Neck, as the Cougars outscored South Brunswick 28-14 over the final eight minutes.
Colts Neck did most of its damage on the scoreboard during the fourth quarter from the free-throw line, shooting 16-for-18 as a team in the final eight minutes. Daniels went 5-for-6 from the stripe in the quarter and scored twice on layups that kept the Vikings at bay.
"We were patient, they missed some shots, we got the lead up and we've got the best player on the floor," Piccola said of Daniels. "Down the end of the game, who do you want on the free-throw line? Lloyd Daniels. And Kyle Gordon. And Jordan deGroot, who has made some big time free throws."
Gordon also turned in a noteworthy effort for Colts Neck, posting 17 points and 11 rebounds while guarding Vikings leading scorer Eric Savage, who finished with 22 points. With Daniels starting slow and South Brunswick's defense digging in early, Gordon helped keep the Cougars afloat with nine first-half points.
"Before the game, (Piccola) walked up to me and said (Savage) was like no other player we've played against," Gordon said. "He was the elite of the elite."
"I think we did a much better job in the second half of containing him. He was a little off, but he hit some shots that you just can't guard. I wanted the job, I asked for the job and I think I delivered pretty well."
Junior Brendan Clark also scored 14 points for Colts Neck and scored six in the first half on the first of his two three-pointers, as well as a traditional three-point play.
Colts Neck has won its three state tournament games by an average of 23 points per game and no fewer than the 20-point margin on Saturday.
Freehold Township defeated Colts Neck, 53-40, last year as the Cougars went cold from the floor down the stretch of that game. Daniels, Gordon and O'Reilly return as starters for Colts Neck, while the Patriots return just one starter from last year's squad in senior Nick Facendo.
While the Patriots will try to win their first ever sectional title by bouncing back from last year's loss, Colts Neck will look to capture its first ever crown now that the Cougars are long removed from three straight sectional final losses from 2010 to 2012.
"We're improving every single game," Gordon said. "Going into the state tournament, I don't know if we thought we'd have this much success, but we've had some great wins, we're really pulling away at the end of games, and I think we're playing our best ball of the season."