POINT PLEASANT BORO - Beating a six-time defending outright division champion Friday night made a milestone win for Point Pleasant Borough boys basketball coach Kevin Hynes a little more special than it already was, but not as special as six more division wins would be.

After dropping a big home game to Donovan Catholic on Tuesday, Point Boro bounced back by beating Lakewood - the No. 10 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - 55-50 to give Hynes his 300th career win.

More importantly, Friday's win sets up a sprint to the finish in the race for the Shore Conference Class B South championship, which Lakewood has won each of the past four seasons (the Piners won their first two outright titles during the six-year run in Class C Central). Donovan Catholic (8-4, 7-1) now leads both Lakewood (9-4, 6-2) and Point Boro (9-4, 6-2) by one game in the standings.

"I'd rather win B South and make a run at a (NJSIAA) sectional title, to be honest," Hynes said of his 300th win. "I've been here for 21 years. When you coach at a school like this that breeds tough kids and has had some good players over the years, you're going to win some games. The way I see it, there are a whole lot of players who have won 300 games here and I just happened to be the coach."

"For my first three years, I was never able to beat them," senior guad and four-year starter John Venturi said of Lakewood. "Senior year, coming back from an injury like this, it means the world (to beat Lakewood). Especially doing it at home and with coach getting his 300th win."

Venturi came off the bench to scored a team-high 15 points Friday to go along with six rebounds. The senior guard has slotted back into the starting lineup since returning from ACL surgery, but an illness earlier in the week limited him and Hynes used him off the bench Friday as a result.

"It's been a process and it was definitely frustrating having to watch the games from the bench while I was hurt," Venturi said. "I just tried to make the most of it and I think it probably helped me in the long run because I learned a lot just from watching. There are parts of the game I probably understand better because I was watching and studying instead of just going out and playing on instincts."

Venturi's first scoring contribution to the game was a grand one. After Lakewood's Adi Palmer threw down a one-handed dunk off a steal in the closing seconds of the first quarter, Venturi pulled up from the halfcourt line and buried the shot to send the Panthers to the second quarter with a 16-10 lead.

After a highlight reel play to get on the scoreboard, Venturi did the majority of his scoring damage from the foul line, where he shot 10-for-10 on Friday. The four-year starter buried all six of his attempts during the final minute, which put the game on ice.

Lakewood took control of the game in the second quarter and led 31-26 at halftime thanks to senior Adi Palmer, who scored 10 of his game-high 23 points in the second. The Piners added to the lead in the third and twice led by an eight-point margin at both 36-28 and 38-30. Palmer also grabbed eight rebounds.

"He's the best player in our division," Panthers junior John Duda said of Palmer. "So we have to try lock him down - that was our mentality. Other guys made plays for them too, but we felt like we had to keep him in check to have a chance."

Senior Patrick Feehan drilled a three to cut the Lakewood lead to 38-33 and ignite Point Boro's push over the final 13 minutes. Junior John Duda capped a defensive third quarter with a baseline fadeaway to pull the Panthers within 40-37 heading to the fourth quarter and Point Boro scored on a jumper by junior Connor Costigan and a drive by Feehan to grab a 41-40 lead early in the fourth.

The game was even at 42 when senior Jack Waddleton drove for a go-ahead basket, which ended up giving Point Boro the lead for good. Junior Connor Strickland followed with a pull-up jumper in transition and Waddleton scored off the glass with under two minutes to go - capping a 13-2 run and putting the Panthers ahead, 48-42.

Lakewood put up a fight over the final 1:30, with Palmer knocking down a pair of free throws and junior Zyheir Jones driving the baseline for a layup to cut the Lakewood deficit to 48-46.

Venturi then knocked down a pair of free throws to increase the Point Boro lead back to four before Palmer was fouled behind the three-point arc by Duda. Palmer hit only one of three free throws, but made up for it by banking in a long three with 12.4 seconds left to draw the Piners within 51-50 after Waddleton made one of two foul shots on the other end.

Venturi kept the pressure on Lakewood with two more free throws and Palmer's three-point attempt from the left corner missed long off the back rim. Venturi sank two more free throws to cap the scoring.

The Panthers avenged an opening-night loss to Lakewood and also beat the Piners for the first time since the 2009-10 season. Point Boro played the first game without Venturi, who did not return to action until Dec. 29.

They also got back to playing their trademark physical style after turning in an effort Tuesday against Donovan Catholic that the Panthers, to a man, felt did not live up to that.

Point Boro celebrates coach Kevin Hynes's 300th career win. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We wanted to get back to being known as the team that is going to play physical for four quarters, defend, rebound and get to the basket," Venturi said. "The last few games, we've been too much of a jumpshooting team and that cost us against Donovan Catholic."

"We got to the basket tonight," Hynes said. "Good things happen when you attack the rim and we just didn't do that at all (against Donovan Catholic). Our message to the guys was to look to work the ball and penetrate. From there, you get better shots, you get kickouts, maybe you get fouled."

Donovan Catholic still has to play both Lakewood and Point Boro at home, as well as a Barnegat team that beat the Griffins once already. While Point Boro is chasing for the top spot, the Panthers are still in position to make a legitimate run at the division crown.

"From the beginning of the season, we came in with the mentality that this was our year," Venturi said. "Even with the Donovan loss and the Lakewood loss, that's still out mentality. Nothing's going to drive us down from going after that goal."

 

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