MIDDLETOWN - Any number of plays down the stretch of the Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team's win over rival Red Bank Catholic Wednesday night at Collins Arena could have been considered the deciding one, but it was a pair of first-half baskets that set the tone for the Bulldogs.

Sophomore Phillip Wheeler jumped off the bench to throw down a momentum-shifting dunk and senior Teddy Sourlis got going with a second-quarter three-pointer to spark Rumson's offense and the Bulldogs - ranked No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - brought home a 47-42 win over the No. 9 Caseys behind their customarily stingy defense.

Wheeler led Rumson with 11 points, five rebounds and two steals, while Sourlis went on to hit three three-pointers and finish with nine points. Junior Jackson McCarthy, meanwhile, posted 10 points and eight rebounds while spearheading the defensive effort on the perimeter to win the game MVP award for the Bulldogs.

Photo by Paula Lopez

"It's been a different dynamic this year and we're embracing it," Sourlis said. "Last year, it was me and Jack (Solano) raining from three and this year, it's been Elijah (McAllister) and Jackson banging inside with Wheels throwing down a couple dunks. It's really different for us because one game we could hit five threes in the first half and the next game, all of our scoring is on the inside. Tonight was kind of a nice mix for us."

During his first full varsity season, Wheeler has shown flashes of his immense potential and a number of those flashes lit up Collins Arena on Wednesday. The 6-foot-7 swingman entered the game late in the first quarter and early in the second, he picked off a pass near midcourt and hammered through a one-handed dunk to tie the score at 10.

"Wheels off the bench is exactly what we needed," Rumson coach Chris Champeau said of Wheeler. "He's so long and aggressive and to me, sometimes he comes in the game and he's like a young colt. He'll make mistakes, but the positive things he brings can change games.

His other first-half basket was a rim-rocking two-handed slam that followed a missed dunk. Wheeler then showed off his range with a three-pointer in the second half and his footwork and handle with a Euro-step and finish in the fourth to put the Bulldogs ahead, 38-33.

"Once you step on the court, you have to have energy," Wheeler said. "If you don't have energy, nothing happens and you'll come out of the game, especially on this team."

Sourlis, meanwhile, is working his way out of a shooting slump that plagued him during the early part of the season. After leading the Shore Conference in three-pointers as a junior last year, Sourlis started the season ice-cold from beyond the arc before picking up his shooting in recent games.

"I owe a lot to my teammates and coaches for believing in me," Sourlis said. "They tell me to keep shooting it and I think I did that pretty well today."

On Wednesday, Sourlis hit a tie-breaking three in the second quarter, a go-ahead three in the third and another third-quarter three that gave Rumson a 27-23 lead.

"The most important thing to me and everyone else on this team is winning," Sourlis said. "We're 14-1 now - that's the most important thing."

While McCarthy was key defensive cog against RBC's long, versatile lineup, senior Elijah McAllister was once again the defensive linchpin. The senior posted six points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, which is actually below his season average of more than six per game.

Red Bank Catholic center John Kelly also played a strong game in the middle for the Caseys, putting up 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in defeat. Sophomore Charlie Gordinier, meanwhile, scored a team-high 11 points and snagged the game MVP for the Caseys.

Rumson will close the week with two more key games, the first of which is a Senior-Night showdown with Class A Central rival Holmdel and the second a trip to Manasquan on Saturday in another top-10 showdown.

The Bulldogs and Warriors have hooked up for several classic games in recent years, including an overtime win for Rumson over Manasquan in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II semifinals last season.

One of the heroes for Rumson in that game was current senior Jack Solano, who has not played since Jan. 6 because of a broken orbital bone above his left eye.

Despite missing Solano's scoring and slashing, Rumson has not lost during his absence and is looking forward to welcoming him back into a balanced lineup that is now starting to get some shooting back with Sourlis rounding back into form as well.

"I think we're in a really good place right now," Sourlis said. "We're ranked third in the Shore and we have a chance to go out every day and prove we belong there. I'm looking forward to the challenge of playing at Manasquan against a really good, really well-coached team. It's always a battle against those guys so we'll have to be ready to battle like we did tonight."

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