NEPTUNE – Myles Mooney and his Neptune boys basketball teammates knew the comeback was coming because it always does. The Scarlet Fliers not only have played close games throughout their season, but on Monday on their home floor, they played a Shore Conference Class B North division opponent that had erased many a deficit during an 11-game winning streak.

Neptune senior Shakeem Ricchardson scored six points - all in the second half - in Neptune's 48-45 win over Long Branch. Richardson battled foul trouble and sat the final 12 minutes of the half. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Matawan – the No. 3 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 – nearly came back from a 15-point deficit in the final nine minutes, but Neptune pulled out a 48-45 home win to end the Huskies’ 11-game winning streak and kick off a crucial week in Class B North.

“We’re just a hungry team,” Mooney said. “Coming into this week, we’re even hungrier. We wanted to shock the Shore.”

Coupled with a Long Branch win over Wall on Monday, Neptune’s win knocks Matawan out of first place while Long Branch moves into first place. The Scarlet Fliers play Long Branch on Tuesday, while Matawan and Long Branch will play each other on Thursday.

Prior to Monday, four of Neptune’s six wins were decided by six points or fewer, while the losses were even closer. Neptune lost twice on shots as time expired – to Marist and Red Bank – once in overtime to Seton Hall Prep and once at Long Branch by five. Despite a double-digit lead for most of second and third quarters, the Fliers were expecting a tight finish.

“We have two losses at the buzzer and another loss in overtime, so we’ve had some close calls where we haven’t quite finished games out,” Neptune coach Ken O’Donnell said. “When you’re playing a team that has won 11 in a row, you expect them to play you tough for four quarters, and they did. They are very tough and I’m proud of how our kids battled.”

After trailing 39-24 late in the third quarter and 41-27 early in the fourth, the Huskies pulled to within 46-45 on a three-point bank shot by senior Chris Tawiah with 1:19 left. Matawan got the ball back with a chance to take the lead and had three chances to surge ahead on one possession. Junior Joe Piscopo missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Tawiah missed two free throws after an offensive rebound and after a second offensive rebound, Huskies turned the ball over with 27 seconds left.

Neptune sophomore Marque Ellington missed two free throws to give Matawan a fourth chance to take the lead, but Austen Planes could not convert a difficult spinning lay-up and Mooney released for a breakaway lay-up to push the lead to 48-45 with nine seconds left.

Matawan junior Jason Dunne got off a potential game-tying shot three feet behind the top of the three-point arc, but the shot was long.

“In a situation like that, we’re just scratching and clawing to get a win,” Mooney said. “We knew they’ve struggled at the free-throw line and with the game on the line, we’re going to make them earn it. We don’t want to put them on the line, but the last thing we wanted to do was give up an easy shot that ends up costing us the game.”

Mooney scored 10 of his team-high 14 points in the first half, while junior Diondre Dunn came off the bench for seven of his nine points and four of his six rebounds. Ellington also finished with 10 points for Neptune.

“I liked our rotation today,” O’Donnell said. “It’s been somewhat challenging finding the right mix and the right combinations, but I thought the guys that got in today gave us energy on the defensive end and on the boards.”

Matawan’s three top scorers all reached double figures, with Dunne scoring 17 points and Piscopo and Tawiah each adding 10. The three Huskies, however, shot a combined 12-for-33 (36 percent) and just 4-for-17 from behind the 3-point arc.

Dunne, Piscopo and Tawiah also accounted for all of Matawan’s poor free-throw shooting. The trio combined to shoot just 9-for-19 from the line.

Although Matawan shot only 4-for-18 from three, the Huskies hit three key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to get back in the game. Matawan went on a 10-0 run to cut Neptune’s lead to 41-37, highlighted by a long three by Piscopo.

Trailing by six late in the fourth, Dunne hits his only three of the game to cut the deficit to 45-42. After junior Cameron Calderon hit one of two free throws for Neptune, Tawiah banked in his three to cut the Neptune lead to one before the Huskies ran out of offense.

“I was particularly happy with our defense today,” O’Donnell said. “(Matawan is) a very good offensive team, and I thought we showed discipline in our assignments and that allowed us to get stops and turn it into offense.

“Where we got in trouble was on offense. We made too many mistakes in the second half: quick shots when we’re ahead, being careless with the ball, missing some foul shots. We’re still playing some young people, and they showed their age late in the game, but that’s going to happen. You can’t tell them every last thing they need to do. They have to learn on their own and today was a chance to learn.”

Neptune’s defense hounded Matawan in the first half, holding the Huskies to 17 points on 7-for-18 shooting while forcing 11 turnovers. The Scarlet Fliers also had a balanced offense that picked up senior Shakeem Richardson, who played only four first-half minutes because of a quick two fouls.

The Scarlet Fliers will have little time to enjoy their win as they prepare to host No. 4 Long Branch on Tuesday. Neptune will then have three days off before hosting No. 5 Lakewood on Saturday.

“We’re going to find out what we can do this week,” O’Donnell said. “This week is three, four and five (in the Shore). That’s a pretty good week.”

 

 

Box Score

Neptune 48, Matawan 45

1

2

3

4

F

Matawan (12-2, 5-1)

8

9

10

18

45

Neptune (7-4, 5-2)

14

15

10

9

48

 

Matawan (45): Joe Piscopo 2 5-7 10, Jason Dunne 6 4-7 17, Nick Tomkins 0 0-0 0, Austen Planes 2 0-0 4, Chris Tawiah 4 0-5 10, Dritan Gjyriqi 2 0-0 4, Mergim Gjyriqi 0 0-0 0, Mike Vella 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 9-19 45

Three-pointers: Piscopo, Dunne, Tawiah 2

Neptune (48): Cameron Calderon 0 1-2 1, Shakeem Richardson 2 2-2 6, Marque Ellington 5 0-3 10, Myles Mooney 6 2-3 14, Kerry Kirkwood 2 0-0 6, Diondre Dunn 2 5-6 9, Sean McMillan 1 0-0 2, Micah Kerr 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 10-16 48

Three-pointers: Kirkwood 2