After an exciting Round of 16 that featured two thrillers that came down to the final seconds and several other teams making impressive statements with lop-sided wins, Sunday’s Shore Conference Boys Basketball Tournament quarterfinals promise to deliver a full day of must-see action.

The Gulls' Nest should be rocking at Brookdale on Sunday when Point Beach takes on Manalapan in what looks to be one of the most exciting Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle).

Here are five burning questions heading into the four games at Brookdale Community College, which will feature No. 24 Matawan vs. No. 1 Lakewood, No. 5 Toms River North vs. No. 4 Colts Neck, No. 3 Manasquan vs. No. 6 Jackson Memorial, and No. 10 Manalapan vs. No. 2 Point Beach.



The Shore Sports Network will broadcast three of Sunday’s Boys quarterfinal games from the 2013 Shore Conference Tournament at Brookdale Community College.

12:45-         Toms River North         vs.     Colts Neck

2:30-           Jackson Memorial          vs.     Manasquan

4:15-           Point Beach                   vs.     Manalapan

Matt Harmon and Kevin Williams will call all the action on WOBM AM 1160/1310 with the games to stream live as well.

  1. Can Matawan keep its Cinderella run going?

The Huskies have been the story of the tournament so far. They are the lowest-seeded team to reach the quarterfinals since Keyport did it in 2009 as the No. 25 seed. Keyport’s run came to a screeching halt in a blowout loss to Christian Brothers Academy that season, and Matawan now faces a formidable opponent as well in top-seeded Lakewood. The Piners have not lost to a Shore Conference opponent with their full lineup, and they are coming off a 60-44 win over No. 17 Middletown North after trailing at halftime.

Matawan stunned CBA 51-50 on a buzzer-beating fadeaway by sophomore Joe Piscopo for its first win ever over the Colts and its first trip to the SCT quarterfinals since 1958, according to head coach Tom Stead. With a sophomore-laden team that has not lost a game by more than nine points this season, the Huskies are playing with house money. The longer they hang in the game against Lakewood, the more the crowd will come around to their side in support of the underdog story. However, Lakewood can more than match the speed of Matawan’s guards and is a much more experienced, veteran team that has been in this spot before. The great equalizer could be Matawan’s 3-point shooting. If the Huskies can get hot from behind the arc and limit Lakewood to one shot when they’re on defense, they have a chance to keep shocking the Shore.

 2. Is this the year Ocean County finally breaks through?

The SCT has long been a playground for Monmouth County teams. The last Ocean County squad to win the SCT title was Lakewood back in 1991, when current head coach Randy Holmes was a star player for the Piners.

That could all change this year, as four of the eight quarterfinalists are from Ocean County, one of its best showings in years. Not only that, but the two top seeds, Lakewood and Point Beach, are Ocean County squads. The other two are Toms River North and Jackson Memorial, who are trying to become the first teams from the current Class A South division to reach the SCT final since Lacey lost to Lakewood in that 1991 championship game.

The main obstacles to Ocean County finally ending the championship drought look to be Manasquan and Colts Neck. The Cougars made the final last year and came up just short of their first SCT title, while Manasquan was a semifinalist a year ago and is gunning for its first championship since 1957. The last Ocean County team to make the final was Monsignor Donovan in 2008, and no other Ocean County squad besides the Griffins has reached the SCT championship since Toms River North in 1996. While Lakewood and Point Beach will have tough assignments on Sunday, there is a very strong chance that one or both of them will be in the championship game. Point Beach has never won an SCT title, but this looks to be the year that Ocean County at least finds its way back to playing for a championship.

 3. Which underdog has the best shot to crack the final four?

The way Manalapan has played the first two games of the tournament, the Braves certainly have to be given a chance to reach the semifinals for the first time in a long time or possibly ever in their program history. However, the Braves face a deep and talented Point Beach team that is on a mission of its own to make history.

A team that has been underestimated all year and could surprise some people on Sunday is fifth-seeded Toms River North. The Mariners might be the quietest 21-2 team in recent memory. With senior center Solly Stansbury coming off his third triple-double of the season in a win over Ocean and a strong backcourt led by senior Damien Singleton and junior Kyle Carrington, the Mariners are dangerous. They face an experienced Colts Neck team that knows how to win on this stage, but with the way that Toms River North defends, it can stay in this game with a team led by the explosive Brandon Federici.

The key is negating the other threats besides Federici. Even if he gets his 20 points, but if Toms River North can contain Chris O’Reilly and Tim Vangelas and keep James Sobieski off the offensive glass, the Mariners have a chance to be one step away from playing for a championship. This is the spot where Class A South teams have stalled out time and time again over the years, so it will be interesting to see if Toms River North or Jackson Memorial can finally get over the hump and into the semifinals.

Jackson Memorial is quietly a great story. This is a program that was left for dead only a few years ago but has become a perennial contender under coach Joe Fagan. They are a rugged defensive team, and they are back in the quarterfinals again after falling to Middletown North last year. They are on pace for a third straight 20-win season as they continue to rewrite the record book for their program. However, this spot has been their Kryptonite, and they face a formidable obstacle in a Manasquan team with multiple scoring threats. It’s going to be hard to win an ugly 41-37 game over the Warriors, some Jackson Memorial is going to need multiple scorers to step up out of the group of Eric Carter, the Specht twins and guard Salam Simon.

4. What looks like the most exciting matchup on Sunday?

Manalapan has star power in Harvard-bound guard Anthony Firkser and has put up 81 and 73 points in blowing out its first two SCT opponents. Point Beach has plenty of its own offensive explosiveness throughout a lineup that features junior point guard Matt Farrell, senior shooting guard P.J. Kineavy, senior center Riley Calzonetti, junior swimgman Dom Uhl and junior forward Noah Yates. The Garnet Gulls just put 88 points on defending SCT champion Neptune and could have scored 100 if they didn’t put their reserves in during the fourth quarter.

With that kind of firepower, this could be a back-and-forth game filled with dazzling plays and “can you top this?” moments. The question is whether Manalapan has enough offensive depth around Firkser to keep up with Point Beach’s deep array of scorers. Seniors Mike Pzyik and Mike Busto have shown they can step up in a big spot with two great games in the tournament so far, and if they continue to stay hot from behind the arc, this could be a very entertaining game. There should be 3-pointers raining from all angles at Brookdale from both teams.

5. Who are the X-factors for the top four seeds?

For top-seeded Lakewood, Mo Diawara is the big key. When he is getting into the lane and scoring off the dribble, shooting a high percentage from the field and creating turnovers on defense, this team is very tough to beat. Senior guard Tyrice Beverette is going to get his points and the tandem of Jared Craddox and Ben Watson is going to do work on the boards, so when the Piners get that extra component out of Diawara, they are as good or better than any team in this tournament.

For second-seeded Point Beach, it’s senior guard P.J. Kineavy. He buried six 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 24 points in the romp over Neptune. When he gets it rolling from deep, it’s just too hard to cover everyone. If you try to play a zone and Kineavy, Matt Farrell, etc., get hot from deep, you’re done. If you try to play man, all five players on the floor usually can take their man off the dribble. Kineavy is so lethal that he can turn a close game into a blowout in an instant, but he has been streaky at times this season. His long-range shooting also opens up the paint for Riley Calzonetti to operate and Dom Uhl and Noah Yates to pound the offensive glass.

For third-seeded Manasquan, it’s junior guard Tommy Toole. We know all about All-Shore talents Jimmy Walsh and J.R. Hobbie, but Toole has been a solid third threat for the Warriors. Clearly he has guts and ability, as his baseline fadeaway with two seconds left in the game beat Long Branch on Thursday night. He rebounds well for his size and is also a capable passer. If he is knocking down shots and you can’t double off of him to help on Walsh or Hobbie, that makes the Warriors a really tough team to cover.

For fourth-seeded Colts Neck, it’s sophomore guard Chris O’Reilly. Senior stud Brandon Federici is one of the best scorers in the Shore, and athletic senior forward Tim Vangelas is a threat off the dribble and from deep. Those two can usually be counted on to get their points, so if O’Reilly chips in with double-digit scoring and some timely 3-pointers, the Cougars are really tough. In the games they have struggled, O’Reilly has struggled in his shooting from the field. If he can bury some shots early on and get comfortable at Brookdale, Colts Neck will be in a good spot.