NEPTUNE – Last year, the Red Bank boys basketball team was a team that tragically lost its only senior and proceeded to lose its way.

Wednesday at Neptune in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals, it was their small group of seniors who led the way in the Bucs’ biggest win of a turnaround season.

Red Bank sophomore Sadiq Palmer (5) celebrates with teammates Eddie Hendrex (above) and Jesse Mack (10) as Neptune's Shakeem Richardson walks of the court.

Seniors Corey Martin and Johnny Dengler combined for 31 points and fellow senior Jesse Mack hit a crucial three-pointer to help lead Red Bank – the No. 6 seed in Central Jersey Group III – to a 67-61 win over No. 3 Neptune.

“Overall, we’re known for being a young team, but our guys have game experience,” Red Bank coach Scott Martin said. “We also have three seniors who have been key guys for us this year, and all three of them were huge tonight. Martin and Dengler have been big all year and Jesse Mack continues to surprise us every game. He’s just been getting better and better.”

The win was the second by the Bucs over the Scarlet Fliers in three meetings between the two teams, with Red Bank beating Neptune at the buzzer at home, and the Fliers winning by 17 in the more recent regular-season match-up between the two Class B North foes.

Red Bank will take on another Class B North rival in Friday’s semifinal when the Bucs travel to No. 2 Long Branch. The Green Wave and Red Bank have already met three times this season, including a split of the regular-season series and a Long Branch win in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16.

Monday’s win by the Bucs continues the Shore Conference’s best turnaround season after Red Bank won only four games last year after senior captain Albert Martin collapsed during a preseason game and died at the age of 17. The Bucs players and coaches have made it clear all season long that after the whirlwind last year, they were ready to properly honor Martin with their effort this season.

“One thing I’ve always said about this group is there is no situation that’s more challenging than what they’ve already been through,” Martin said. “Losing Albert was like losing a surrogate son and that’s how I feel about all of these guys now. They are like brothers, and they are playing for their fallen brother. The way they’ve responded this year, Al would be really proud of them.”

Red Bank took a 26-21 lead into the second half, but Neptune worked to push back in front, 51-50, with less than three minutes left in the game. That is when the Bucs began a game-clinching 17-5 run to finish off the Fliers, starting with 10 straight points to take a nine-point lead into the final minute.

Corey Martin started the run with a go-ahead jumper to put Red Bank ahead, 52-51, and after Dengler and sophomore Sadiq Palmer each hit two free throws to push the lead to five, Martin and Palmer stole the ball for a breakaway lay-up on consecutive Neptune possessions to cap the 10-0 spurt.

“The last time we came here, we were really tight, and they came out hungrier than we did,” Dengler said. “Tonight, we didn’t feel any pressure. We just went out and played hard and played for one another.”

Martin finished with a team-high 17 points off the bench, while Dengler hit four threes and poured in 14 points. Palmer gave Red Bank 13 points and six rebounds off the bench and junior Anthony Mitchell chipped in 12 points and six boards as well.

“We feel like we’ve been in every situation and we’re ready to handle anything the game throws at us,” Corey Martin said. “We know they are going to make a run, and it’s just a matter of continuing to play and outwork them.”

Mack did most of his work on the glass (eight rebounds), but also hit a three-pointer for his lone field goal to tie the game at 47 early in the fourth quarter when Neptune was on a 9-4 to start the fourth.

Red Bank adjusted from its Feb. 6 loss to Neptune by changing its defense. The Bucs ditched their usual full-court, trapping defense in favor of a traditional, half-court man-to-man against the Fliers while throwing help at Neptune’s top scorers, senior guards Shakeem Richardson and Myles Mooney. Richardson and Mooney combined to shoot 2-for-30 from the field for 15 points.

“The last time we played them, we tried to play run-and-jump (defense) against them, and they just cut it up,” Scott Martin said. “To be perfectly honest, we stole one from them the first time we played them, and I think that gave us a false sense of security going into the second game. Tonight, we knew we had to change the way we defended them and our guys took to it very well. There were some mistakes, but they were aggressive mistakes, which you can live with.”

As a team, Neptune shot 3-for-25 from three-point range while Red Bank shot 9-for-19, which helped the Bucs mitigate a 19-8 turnover advantage for Neptune.

Sophomore Marque Ellington led Neptune with 18 points and 10 rebounds while junior Shawn McMillan scored 10 points off the bench for the Fliers.

“We’ve had some big wins this year, but this is the biggest,” Scott Martin said. “To play a game like that against a program like Neptune in their gym is great accomplishment for any team. For our kids to do it, coming from where they’ve come from, it speaks volumes about the kind of people they are.”

 

Box Score

Red Bank 67, Neptune 56

Red Bank (67): Johnny Dengler 4 2-2 14, Anthony Mitchell 4 2-2 12, Eddie Hendrex 0 0-0 0, Jesse Mack 1 0-0 3, Justin Gilson 0 0-0 0, Sadiq Palmer 6 1-3 13, Corey Martin 5 5-8 17, Tyler Christie 1 0-0 2, Matt Ferrogine 2 2-2 6. Totals: 23 12-17 67

Three-pointers: Dengler 4, Mitchell 2, Mack, Martin 2

Neptune (56): Cameron Calderon 0 0-0 0, Shakeem Richardson 1 4-4 7, Marque Ellington 7 4-9 18, Myles Mooney 1 6-6 8, Kerry Kirkwood 1 0-0 3, Lamar Ford 2 4-4 8, Diondre Dunn 0 0-0 0, Sean McMillan 4 1-1 10, Micah Kerr 0 2-2 2. Totals: 16 21-27 56

Three-pointers: Richardson, Kirkwood, McMillan