NEPTUNE - With under four minutes to go in the second quarter, Neptune senior Jared Kimbrough went to the bench with his team nursing a one-point lead on Christian Brothers Academy in a game that carried with it major Shore Conference Class A North division title implications.

That bench might has well have been a phone booth, because Kimbrough came back into the game looking like Superman.

Neptune - the No. 5 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - dominated the game from the point of Kimbrough's re-entry late in the second quarter and finished off an impressive, 53-36 win over No. 4 CBA to pull even with the Colts at the top of the Class A North standings with one more game to go for each.

"I knew I had to get it going," Kimbrough said of his outburst, which began late in the second quarter. "I couldn't get down on myself, because once I get down on myself, it's hard to help my team. I just wanted to come out, shut them out on defense, get a couple dunks and get us going heading into halftime."

For his part, Kimbrough went to the bench with two points and scored 21 the rest of the way to finish with 23 points and 15 rebounds. He also held CBA junior Josh Cohen, who entered the game comfortably averaging a double-double, to nine points and eight rebounds on the other end of the floor.

"It's all about our defense," Kimbrough said. "Coach (Joe) Fagan has been on us from Day One telling us that we need to dig in on defense and that's how we're going to win games. Our main focus today was on the defense end and you saw what happened."

With the game tied, 17-17, Kimbrough came off the bench and traded baskets with Cohen before scoring seven unanswered, capped by a thunderous two-handed dunk that capped the first-half scoring and sent Neptune to the locker room with a 26-19 lead.

"I took him out because Cohen went to the bench and I wanted to give him a 45-second or a minute rest," Fagan said. "I also wanted to remind him to keep his focus. With Jared, it's all about if he can stay focused. Throughout his career, when he's tired, he has a tendency to lose focus and is shows in some of the mistakes. Tonight, you didn't see much of that."

The first time the two rivals met this season, CBA erased a 27-15 halftime deficit by the end of the third quarter on the way to a 43-42 win. In that game, Jared Kimbrough ran into foul trouble in the third and the Colts capitalized.

On Tuesday, the Scarlet Fliers squashed any notion of a comeback right out of the gate in the third. Junior Dwaine Jones and senior Scott Fields scored two quick baskets and senior Kobe Blake found Kimbrough for a one-handed slam dunk that extended Neptune's run to 13-0 and made the score 32-19.

Kimbrough answered a Nolan Madden three-pointer with another one-handed dunk off a drive to make it 34-22 and Fields buried a three that stretched the lead back to 13, 37-24. Kimbrough then capped the quarter with a putback and a pair of free throws to send Neptune to the fourth with a commanding 41-24 advantage.

Jones turned in a 15-point effort on the offensive end on 7-for-10 shooting and also grabbed seven rebounds, while Fields pitched in nine.

"That was the best game he has played in a Neptune uniform," Fagan said of Jones. "After practice (Monday), I told him to go home, get a good night's rest and remember what we talked about in practice. I told him, 'If you play your best, we win. It's that simple.'"

In addition to Kimbrough slowing down Cohen, freshman Sam Fagan locked down CBA leading scorer Stephen Braunstein, who managed only six points on 1-for-7 shooting from the floor. Senior Rob Mahala led the Colts with 10 points, including six in the first quarter.

"Coach really wanted us to keep defending," Jones said. "That's what we case our team around. Everyone had a hot night scoring tonight except for Sam, but he did a lockdown job on Braunstein. He's one of our best defenders as a freshman, but he doesn't really get credit for that. He played big, we got a few stops in a row and started knocking down shots and it all just went from there."

Since losing to CBA on Jan. 11 to fall to 6-3, Neptune has gone 10-1 over its last 11 games with its only loss coming against Montclair Immaculate - which beat Ranney on New Year's Day - by a four-point margin.

The turning point of Neptune's season, according to Joe Fagan, was a 37-29 loss to Ocean at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase. In that game, Kimbrough scored all but 10 of the team's points.

"The best thing that happened to us was the loss to Ocean," Fagan said. "Sometimes, you learn best from your mistakes and your bad games and we've got an entire game tape of mistakes and a bad game. We looked at the tape closely, guys were honest with themselves and we've been getting steadily better and (tonight) was the best we've played for an entire game."

To clinch at least a share of the Class A North championship, Neptune will likely have to beat No. 6 Colts Neck on the road on Thursday. With a win and a CBA loss to Marlboro, the Scarlet Fliers would win the division outright. Neptune has not won a division title since winning Class B North in 2011-12, which was also the last time it won the Shore Conference Tournament.

"It felt good - we needed to get them back for that loss that we took to them at the beginning of the year," Kimbrough said. "That left a bad taste in our mouth so we had to get them back for that. We knew we had to stay focused all week and when the game came, we were ready."

 

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