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ABERDEEN TWP. – Winning a state championship is an accomplishment most high school athletes dream about, and yet, despite the fact that they led their team to its first NJSIAA sectional championship since 1957, Matawan seniors Jason Dunne and Joe Piscopo would prefer they – and, more importantly, everyone else – forgot about their 2013-14 Central Jersey Group II title for another month or so.

The four-year varsity players returned for their senior season as the two leading scorers on the first Huskies sectional championship team in 57 years, but the season to this point has been anything but the charmed life of a champion.

“In a lot of ways, the only bad part about last year is this year,” Dunne said. “We carry that bulls-eye on our back even though we didn’t come into the year with the same team.”

Jason Dunne got off to a fast start and finished with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists to help Matawan beat Red Bank Catholic Wednesday to move within a win of a Shore Conference Tournament berth. (Photo by Matt Manley)

And yet, despite an up-and-down season for a team that entered the week on the brink of missing a chance to even compete in the Shore Conference Tournament, the Huskies are now one win away from getting a shot to find their magic again in the SCT.

Needing two wins in three games this week to officially qualify for the SCT, Matawan took care of one right away by beating Red Bank Catholic Wednesday night, 57-48, in Class B North. After enduring a stretch in which it lost eight out of 11 games to fall to 6-8, Matawan has won four of its last five games and can qualify for next week’s SCT by beating either Ocean on Friday or Bloomfield on Saturday.

“At this point, every game is a must-win for us,” Piscopo said. “Before the game, though, we did say this game doesn’t mean as much for RBC as it does for us, so if they want it more than us, we’ve got a problem.”

Piscopo scored a game-high 17 points to go with three assists and four steals, while Dunne scored eight of his 15 points in the first quarter while also chipping in six rebounds and four assists. Senior Nick Smith also gave the Huskies 11 points and senior Samson One-Onitolo chipped in eight rebounds to go with his four points.

“There are expectations to do what we did last year, even though we have guys playing who weren’t playing during our run last year,” Dunne said, referring to the Huskies’ three new starters, none of whom played in the regular rotation last season. “In a lot of ways, it’s unfair to those guys to expect them to play at a championship level even though a lot of them had never really played varsity minutes. We’ve just been trying to help them along while they work hard to get better, and over these last few games, you can really see it start to pay off.”

Upon falling to 6-8 with consecutive home losses to Neptune by 20 points and Red Bank by 18, Matawan coach Tom Stead said he locked his team in a classroom and told them he would let them out once everyone aired their grievances with one another and the team.

“We locked them in for about two-and-a-half hours,” Stead said. “We didn’t practice, we just told them they weren’t coming out until they aired some stuff out and started trusting one another like we did last year. That trust from the first guy to the last guy is what carried us last year and you need that. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you don’t trust and believe in one another, you’re not going to get anything done.”

Matawan led Wednesday’s game from start to finish, beginning with a three-pointer by Dunne – the first of his three straight makes from the field to start the game – and ended with the Huskies building a 12-point lead by the final minute of the game – the largest they would hold. After taking an eight-point lead into the second quarter, Matawan never led by fewer than five points.

With players like Smith, One-Onitolo, senior Matt Esposito (four points) and junior Mergim Gjyriqi (six points) all contributing during this turnaround stretch of games, the floor has opened up for the returning duo, particularly Piscopo.

“We see so many different defenses,” Piscopo said. “Whether it’s box-and-one, triangle-and-two, a match-up zone, we’ve seen pretty much everything that teams are going to throw at us, and we’ve eventually learn how to beat them to force teams to come out of them.”

“It opens everything up when a lot of guys play well,” Dunne said. “You get a couple of these guys making shots and it forces teams to come out of the triangle or come out of the zone and creates some more opportunities for good shots.”

Piscopo, a three-year starter at point guard, has struggled to find his shot for most of the season, but knocked down three 3-pointers Wednesday and went 8-for-11 from the line.

“He’s very hard on himself,” Stead said of Piscopo. “We’ve been working with him on his shot, watching film, trying to tweak some things here and there. He’s played as hard as he ever has on defense, but I think he was maybe moving just a little too fast on offense and he gets frustrated.

“He’s been in a long slump. He’s shooting the ball lights-out in practice the last couple days and tonight, he was real solid shooting it.”

Wednesday’s win was the second in as many games for the Huskies over the Caseys. Matawan won the first meeting in January 69-40 behind 26-point, seven-assist game by Dunne that broke a four-game losing streak for Matawan.

“We have some length that we can throw at their shooters,” Stead said. “The key with those guys is to make them put it on the floor and hope you can rotate without over-rotating and leaving a guy wide open for a three. I thought we did a great job contesting. They made their share of threes, but a lot of them were way behind the line or challenged.”

The Caseys shot 9-for-26 (34.6 percent) from behind the three-point arc Wednesday, including 4-for-6 shooting by senior Joe Montano to account for all of his team-high 12 points.

Now that Matawan is on the cusp of qualifying for the SCT, the Huskies are hoping to settle into the same groove that carried them to the semifinals last year, the first SCT semifinal appearance since 1965.

“We needed a wake-up call,” Dunne said. “Everybody expected things to be like they were last year and then we started losing a lot, and I’m sure a lot of people lost faith in us. We needed that. We needed to see that we could lose everything we built up, and it’s made us understand we have to work even harder this year to get back to where we want to be.”

“Guys are taking it personal,” Piscopo said.  "Coach sat us down and said, ‘You’re either going to make or break from now until the end of the year.’ Each guy took that personal, and the momentum has started to change. We know we’ve got the bulls-eye now and we welcome it.”


Box Score

Matawan 57, Red Bank Catholic 48






Red Bank Catholic (11-9, 7-7)






Matawan (10-9, 7-6)







Red Bank Catholic (48): Joe Montano 4 0-0 12, Evan Madigan 2 0-2 5, Kevin Fazio 4 3-3 11, Eddie Hahn 2 2-4 8, Liam Byrne 4 0-0 10, Tom Montano 0 0-0 0, Mike Travers 1 0-0 2, John Poccia 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 5-9 48

Three-pointers: J. Montano 4, Madigan, Hahn 2, Byrne 2

Matawan (57): Joe Piscopo 3 8-11 17, Jason Dunne 4 4-4 15, Samson One-Onitolo 2 0-2 4, Matt Esposito 2 0-2 4, Nick Smith 3 5-5 11, Mergim Gjyriqi 2 1-2 6, Devon Spann 0 0-0 0, Randy Myers 0 0-0 0, Joey Ratty 0 0-0 0, Pat Hennessy 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 18-26 57

Three-pointers: Piscopo 3, Dunne 3, Gjyriqi