Shore Conference Tournament Semifinals

Wednesday, Feb. 26

Brick Memorial High School


No. 1 Point Beach vs. No. 4 Matawan, 6 p.m.

For 23 games, Point Beach looked like a team that would not only win the Shore Conference Tournament, but reach the NJSIAA Group I semifinal without an opponent so much as sniffing defeat. Then, Jackson Memorial had Point Beach on the ropes to a point that the Jaguars could practically taste the upset, but the Garnet Gulls did what good teams do: they won ugly. In fact, in each of Point Beach’s last two games, the opponent has been within at least one point of the top seed in the fourth quarter, with No. 16 Southern also giving Point Beach a serious run before the Gulls pulled away for a 20-point win.

Fresh off a scare in the previous round, top-seeded Point Beach will try to survive two more rounds to win the Shore Conference Tournament. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

While that should give Matawan some hope in this game, there is still major cause for concern for anyone pulling for the Huskies to upset Point Beach and build on its best season in nearly 50 years. One thing the last two Point Beach opponents had to combat the Gulls was size at several positions, something that Point Beach ultimately succumbed to in its lone loss of the season to the Patrick School. While Matawan’s front court has featured some unsung heroes in Nick Tomkins, Austen Planes and Dritan Gyjriqi, none have the combination of size and athleticism that the front courts of Southern and Jackson Memorial had.

That means Matawan will have to win the game with its three-headed monster in the back court, which might work, to a point. Point Beach hasn’t faced too many guards with the motor of Joe Piscopo, and Jason Dunne can match up athletically with Noah Yates. Point Beach will most likely try to take Chris Tawiah out of the game by sticking Dom Uhl on him, which means he’ll have to hit his shots when they come while Piscopo and Dunne work to get him looks, as well as looks for themselves.

Defensively, it’s hard to see Matawan keeping Point Beach down. As great as Manasquan was playing heading into Sunday, the Warriors were never an especially dynamic team. They were a great defensive team that had a bad day shooting the ball against another scrappy defensive group. It takes more than scrap to defend Point Beach, and unless Matawan can get some more foul trouble on Matt Farrell – which helped keep Jackson Memorial in the game – it’s going to be hard to play at the pace the Huskies want while also keeping the Garnet Gulls in check. Point Beach may still be ripe for the picking, but it’s hard to see the Gulls going down on Wednesday. The Pick: Point Beach, 60-49


No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy vs. No. 3 Lakewood, 7:45 p.m.

For the first 14 minutes of its win over Long Branch on Sunday, Lakewood looked like the best team in the tournament. The Piners completely dominated the Green Wave in jumping out to a 25-5 lead during that stretch, with the offense working for quality shots, the defense harassing Long Branch’s guards and Lakewood’s five cleaning up the glass on both ends. Then, as soon as the lead hit 20, Lakewood seemed to lose its edge offensively on the boards as Long Branch chopped the deficit down to six before running out of gas.

Dan Niblack has been Lakewood's hot hand over the last two weeks and the Jackson Liberty transfer is looking to earn his first SCT championship trip while giving Lakewood its second straight. (Photo by Bill Normile)

No matter how one chooses to view Lakewood’s performance to close the game, the Piners gave up 28 points to a team in the SCT quarterfinals. While the offense did falter – thanks in large part to poor free-throw shooting and a number of missed lay-ups – the defense stayed on task and that should be seen as the mark of a good team rather than an overlooked aspect of a flawed team. The Piners are going to show up on defense and they will have their moments on offense as well.

CBA had a similar problem putting Neptune away on Sunday. The Colts never trailed in the game, but Neptune had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter thanks to some good shooting by its top two scorers and a full-court press that bothered the Colts enough to make things interesting, but not enough for Neptune to kick down the door. Lakewood will certainly try to hound CBA as Neptune did, but the Piners will have to do it while defending the three-point arc against one of the best shooting teams it will face all year. If at any point, Lakewood needs to help off of a shooter to stop a ball-handler or post player, the Colts can make the Piners pay.

It’s hard to see the Piners going into the game with any plan other than playing straight up on defense and staying with the shooters. While CBA has a couple of players capable of getting to the rim, Lakewood prides itself on its ability to defend the dribble and will be geared up to stop that.

The last time these two teams played in the SCT, Lakewood hammered CBA at home two years ago in the round of 16. This is the first time in recent years that both programs have been near the top of their respective games and have met deep in the tournament. The clash of differing styles and balance on both sides should make for a fascinating showdown. While Lakewood has some new players, they still have that championship taste in their mouth from last year, or at the very least, the scent of a championship on their nose. The Colts are definitely back among the Shore Conference’s elite, but they might have to wait another year to get back to the top. The Pick: Lakewood, 54-51

Quarterfinal Picks Record: 3-1

Overall Record: 17-7