LITTLE SILVER - It took the Neptune boys basketball team seven tries to beat a Shore Conference Class B North opponent last season and it took a 3-7 start for those Scarlet Fliers to shake out the cobwebs and and turn into the Shore Conference Tournament semifinalist team they eventually became.

Sophomore Jared Kimbrough experienced that team awakening first hand as a freshman last year and although he and his teammates and coaches have seen it can be done, none of them have any interest in taking that route again this year.

With its offense in disarray and a second straight loss to open the season staring them in the face, the Scarlet Fliers - ranked No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 - jumped up off the deck at Red Bank Regional High School Monday and rallied to beat the Bucs, 40-37, for their first win of the season.

"We can't afford to get off to that kind of start again this year," Kimbrough said. "We don't have as much firepower this year where we can just turn it on like we did last year. We're not going to let one loss get us down, but at the same time, we have to get better and come back and win the next one."

Tyreek Montgomery of Neptune defended by Sadiq Palmer of Red Bank. (Photo by Matt Manley)

In what turned out to be a defensive struggle, nine different Neptune players scored and none scored more than seven points. Kimbrough led the balanced Neptune offense with seven points to go with eight rebounds and four blocks.

"If Jared competes like that every night, we'll have a chance every night," Neptune coach Joe Fagan said. "Our shot selection has got to get a lot better. In the first half, it was awful. But when (Kimbrough) competes like that, we're a different team. He has unique talent, but you've got to compete. I hope to see that again. I'm going to stay cautiously optimistic."

The 6-foot-6-inch Kimbrough came off the bench as a freshman last season and entered last year with a reputation among coaches throughout the Shore as, potentially, the next star at Neptune at some point during his career.

"I just had to clear my mind and focus on what was important at that moment, which was winning the game," said Kimbrough, whose second of two second-half field goals gave Neptune its first lead of the second half, 32-31. "We needed to score and get stops and I was just trying to make plays anyway I could to help us win."

"Say what you want about Jared, but at the end of the day, I don't forget that he's still only a sophomore," Fagan said. "Because he has big upside potential, people forget that he's a sophomore. I don't. That's from a skill stand point, an understanding stand point and even from an experience stand point. People don't realize he's only played in a limited number of high school games."

Red Bank took a 29-22 lead into the fourth quarter and after leading 13-9 after the first quarter, Neptune went ice cold on offense during the middle two quarters. The Scarlet Fliers managed only nine points between the start of the second and end of the third before coming to life in the fourth and closing the game on an 18-8 run.

Neptune finished 14-for-58 (24 percent) from the floor for the game and was 7-for-43 (16 percent) heading into the fourth before going 7-for-15 in the last quarter.

"The unique thing about Neptune High School is you have a lot of perimeter players," Fagan said. "When people play you zone, the natural tendency (on offense) is to go into the gaps in the middle of the zone and look for the basketball, play high-low and that's not their natural tendency here. Last year we had a little bit more of that and we just don't have players who think that way right now."

Senior Barry Brown shot just 1-for-14 but his one field goal was a game-tying transition layup as he was fouled. Brown hit the ensuing free throw to give the Scarlet Fliers the lead for good with 3:44 left.

Junior Tyreek Montgomery delivered a steal and basket to push the lead to 37-34 and Alex Harbor buried a three to stretch it to 40-34 with a little more than a minute to go.

Red Bank sophomore Devin Cooper hit a three to cut the Neptune lead in half with 12 seconds to go and after a missed front end of a one-and-one with just seconds remaining, senior Matt Reardon hit a 35-footer that would have tied the game, but he released the shot after the final buzzer sounded.

Senior Sadiq Palmer led Red Bank with 12 points.

Although Neptune has struggled to score in each of its first two games, the Scarlet Fliers have exhibited the kind of defense that got them to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals last year. They fell behind 13-0 by the end of the first quarter in Friday's loss to Matawan, but have allowed an average of fewer than 10 points per quarter since.

"We definitely got better defensively this game in the second half, just like we got better defensively against Matawan in the second half," Fagan said. "These guys do a very good job. They are very patient. They make you guard."