LONG BRANCH - Senior Mike Dunne wishes his Matawan boys basketball team would have a better track record this year of closing out teams after jumping out to big leads, but he and the Huskies - ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - would not trade in the experience in the do-or-die final minutes of games.

Monday at Long Branch in the Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship Classic, Matawan squandered a double-digit halftime lead against the host Green Wave, but once again demonstrated the chops to execute with the game on the line.

Dunne buried a short, go-ahead fadeaway jumper with 24 seconds left Matawan held on to edge Long Branch, 58-57, to avoid coughing up a large halftime lead against a frenzied Green Wave team in the second half.

Dunne finished with a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds, including two other baskets in the fourth quarter that helped momentarily keep the oncoming Green Wave at bay when the home team was making its run.

Matawan senior Mike Dunne handles the ball against Long Branch senior Tyree Morris. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We treat every game like it's the biggest game of the year," Dunne said. "Today, this was the biggest game - to make it to 9-2, to show the Shore Conference who we are and just for our team chemistry. To battle through that game, through so many ups and downs, it was just an emotional game."

Long Branch pulled even at 47 on a Tyree Morris layup early in the fourth before Dunne answered with a floater in the lane and a steal-and-layup to push the Matawan advantage back to four at 51-47. The 47-47 tie was the first deadlock of the evenings since it was 5-5 in the first quarter.

Green Wave junior Marc Dennis responded to Dunne's scored with a three-point play to cut the Matawan lead to 51-50 and after junior Quincy Wathington hit one of two free throws, Dennis found senior Juwan Wilkins for a three-pointer that gave Long Branch its first lead at 3:47 to play in the fourth.

Matawan senior Ramon Estrada responded with a difficult runner in the lane to give his team the lead right back, but senior Kaymar Mimes battled for an offensive rebound, earned a trip to the line and hit two free throws to give Long Branch a 55-54 lead on the next possession.

"In these games, when it gets very hectic, sophomores haven't been in that situation, so that's kind of the role that me, Reggie (Tawiah) and Roman have to get the ball and do our thing, just to help (the sophomores) out," Dunne said.

Dennis then hit a pair of free throws to give the Green Wave its largest lead at 57-54 before Estrada sank two clutch free throws to draw Matawan back within a point with under two minutes to play.

Matawan forced a key turnover to get the ball back trailing by one point and narrowly avoided a turnover of its own on a jump ball that kept the ball in its possession with under a minute left. After a timeout with 35 seconds left, Dunne took an inbound pass, drove it hard toward the left side of the paint, pulled up, and sank the go-ahead jumper with 24 seconds remaining.

"Coach (John Giraldo) was telling me to go off two feet with my shot because they probably took five or six charges in the game," Dunne said. "They were yelling at me from the bench (all game) to go off two and I finally did that at the end and listened to my coaches."

After a timeout with 14 seconds left, Long Branch got the ball to Dennis, who found Morris open in the corner for a three-point attempt as time expired, but Morris's shot rimmed out to seal the win for Matawan.

Long Branch trailed by as many as 16 in the second quarter and by 14 at halftime before opening the third quarter on a 13-1 run to close the gap to 39-37.

"I came in at halftime telling everyone that they are going to come for our heads, that they are going to try to come after us mentally and try to be really physical," Dunne said. "They did that. Good job for them, but we've got to find a way to be better in the third quarter because that's like three games this year so far where we've been up 14 or 15 in the third quarter and its was close at the end of the game."

Sophomore Darrell Rogers added 16 points for Matawan and senior Chris Tawiah netted nine while battling foul trouble throughout the game before fouling out with 1:50 left.

"We had a lot of young guys in in big situations today," Dunne said. "In the third quarter, we had three sophomores and one junior in the game and it's a learning process for them. They were at least able to hold the lead out there and Ramon Estrada was the leader out there for us during that third quarter."

Dennis and Morris each scored 18 points to lead the Green Wave, with Dennis scoring 12 in the first half and Morris pouring in 12 in the second.

Matawan has survived its fair share of close calls, defeating Ocean, 57-56, in the final seconds in the Husky Holiday Classic semifinals and surviving comeback efforts by divisional rivals St. John Vianney and Raritan. Matawan's losses are to No. 3 Rumson-Fair Have and to a 6-5 Union team who has four losses to teams ranked in the top 11 of the NJ.com Top 20 (No. 1 Roselle Catholic, No. 5 Linden, No. 8 Seton Hall Prep and No. 11 St. Mary's of Elizabeth).

"We knew we blew the lead, but we knew we were in that situation before and came out with a win," Dunne said. "We knew we could score buckets and answer them, so although they came back, we knew we still had it in us to stay with it and get the win."

 

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