JACKSON – Southern Regional senior Mike Gesicki considers himself an athlete for all seasons, and part of his basketball season during his four years as a varsity starter has typically involved working through double and triple teams.

Eric Carter (left) and Mike Gesicki (right) went head-to-head Tuesday, with Gesicki and Southern pulling out a win over Carter and Jackson Memorial.

After three years of trying to fight through those waves of defenders, the 6’6” Penn State football recruit has instead learned to use his reputation and his physical frame to get his clutch-shooting teammate an open shot with the game on the line.

Junior Jake Logue came off a Gesicki screen and buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 13 seconds left to deliver Southern a 45-43 win over Jackson Memorial – the No. 8 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 on Tuesday night.

Gesicki and Logue combined for 41 of Southern’s 45 points, with Gesicki adding 12 rebounds and Logue hitting four 3-pointers.

“We’ve been committed to becoming a top program and part of that process is getting everyone to buy into their role and their job every night,” Southern coach Eric Fiero said. “We all know how gifted Mike is as a player and as an athlete, but we’ve been impressing upon him that when he’s facing double and triple teams, his value is as a passer and especially setting screens.

 

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“In years past, he hasn’t always had the help or the trust in his teammates to make those kinds of plays, but with a shooter like Jake and some of the guys we have, he has developed that trust to where if he sets the screen, he know either we’re getting a shot that someone else can make or he’s going to get the ball back.”

Southern squandered a 15-point second-half lead and trailed Jackson Memorial 43-38 inside of the two-minute mark. Gesicki cut the deficit to one by making two of three free throws and throwing down a dunk with 34 seconds left to cut Jackson Memorial’s lead to 43-42.

 

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After two non-shooting fouls, Jackson Memorial struggled to inbound the ball before eventually getting the ball to senior Jimmy Markham, whom Southern immediately fouled.

Markham missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving Southern a chance to take the lead. Logue cut along the baseline, off a Gesicki screen, took a pass from junior Zac Halliday and drilled a three from the right wing for a 45-43 Southern lead with 13 seconds left.

“Coach (Eric Fierro) and I watched the film of the Atlantic City game from last year when we ran that play and it worked,” Gesicki said, referring to a narrow 61-56 loss to the eventual NJSIAA Group IV champion during last year’s South Jersey Group IV Tournament. “It was open, we just had to execute it. Jake is our best shooter and he was knocking down shots all game, so when we were in the last timeout, we said ‘Jake, we’re coming to you. Run right off my right shoulder and let it go,’ and he was ready.”

“We ran through the play once and I was actually open under the basket, and I think Mike missed me,” Logue said. “When we ran through it again, I knew the option was going to be running off that screen. You always know Mike is going to set a hard screen and coming off of it, I had a good look. It felt good when I let it go so I thought it was going in.”

Without a timeout remaining, Jackson Memorial had to answer to tie or win the game and junior Jesse Hill’s 3-pointer as time expired was off the mark.

“I haven’t been shooting the ball that well over the last few games, but I know my job is to make shots,” Logue said. “I can always play defense and look to make the right pass, but when the shot is there, I need to be ready to shoot it. The team has confidence in me, and it’s just a matter of forgetting the last shot and taking then next one when it comes.”

Southern led 28-13 during the early part of the third quarter before Jackson staged a 28-8 run to close to take a 41-36 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter.  Senior Eric Carter scored 10 points and handed out five assists during the run, while Markham tied the game at 36 with a jumper and gave Jackson a 39-36 lead with a 3-pointer in the fourth.

 

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Carter finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks while Markham added 10 points off the bench.

“I’ve been playing against Eric since we were both in eighth grade,” Gesicki said. “Being a football player, I like to play physical and that’s probably something he’s not as used to. The good thing is he was guarding me today, which was great because we haven’t always gone head-to-head on both ends. He’s improved every year and a game like that is what I dream about as a player and as a competitor.”

Southern jumped out to an 11-3 first-quarter lead and built a 16-3 lead with 6:52 left in the second quarter. It took 6:29 for either team to score the first point of the game, with Logue hitting a 3-pointer with 1:31 left in the first quarter to break the scoreless tie. Jackson Memorial turned the ball over eight times in the first half and only three times in the second half while rallying.

“Basketball is a game of runs and as quick as you go on a 12-0 run, you can give up a 12-0 run,” Gesicki said. “Jackson is a great team and even though we were out-playing them in the first half, we knew they were going to come back at us. We needed to be tough, stick together and when we had a chance to make a play on offense and get a stop, we had to do it.”

Despite the win Tuesday, Southern still trails Jackson Memorial by a game-and-a-half in the Class A South race and one game in the loss column. Southern is the only team in the division to beat Jackson Memorial, but the Rams also lost to Lacey twice in a span of five days, lost at Brick Memorial in overtime, and lost to Jackson Liberty on a half-court shot at the buzzer in the Score at the Shore Holiday Tournament.

“We’ve been in some close games where we got a lead and just didn’t finish teams off,” Gesicki said. “It’s frustrating to think we could be 13-1 or whatever, but ultimately, you want to know you can compete with top teams and you want to know you’re building on each game and at this point, we feel pretty good about where we’re headed.”

Southern also has losses to St. Augustine and Linden, the latter of which is the No. 4 team in the latest Star-Ledger Top 20. With a similar team last season, the Rams took eventual NJSIAA Group IV champion Atlantic City to the wire in a 61-56 loss to the Vikings in the South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals.

“My vision has always been for this program to be one of the top-tier programs in the Shore,” said Fierro, now in his fourth season. “The top teams aren’t shooting for going 10-0 or 15-0. The goal is to set yourself up for the tournaments so that when you get in a big game against a quality opponent, your team knows how to handle itself.”

 

 

Box Score

Southern 45, Jackson Memorial 43

1

2

3

4

F

Southern (8-6, 6-3)

11

13

9

12

45

Jackson Memorial (12-5, 8-2)

3

10

13

17

43

 

Southern (45): Ethan Dubois 0 0-0 0, John Furlong 0 0-0 0, Eric Ray 0 0-0 0, Mike Gesicki 7 6-9 21, Jake Logue 8 0-0 20, Zac Halliday 0 0-0 0, Logan Sheehan 1 0-0 2, Robert Yaiser 1 0-0 2. Totals: 17 6-9 45

Three-pointers: Gesicki, Logue 4

Jackson Memorial (43): Gino Palummo 2 2-2 7, C.J. Blue 2 0-0 5, Eric Carter 5 2-3 12, Jesse Hill 4 1-1 9, Marcus Ademilola 0 0-0 0, Jimmy Markham 4 0-1 10, Eddie Landi 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 5-7 43

Three-pointers: Palummo, Blue, Markham 2