*Shore-Paulsboro photo gallery by Sport Shots WLB*

TOMS RIVER - One game after getting over the hump and winning an NJSIAA sectional final for the first time in 48 years, the Shore Regional boys basketball team was in position to take its run one step further Thursday at Pine Belt Arena.

With the game on the line, the Blue Devils gave the ball to the player who no one could stop during the tournament. Senior Dan Largey looked to deliver one more big basket in his Shore career in the final seconds, but was denied by a team that was desperate to get over a hurdle of its own.

South Jersey Group I champion Paulsboro stopped Largey and the Blue Devils on the game's deciding possession with five seconds left to beat Shore, 51-50, and advance to the Group I final for the first time since 2003.

Dan Largey is helped up by senior teammate James Kelly after the final buzzer of Shore's 51-50 loss to Paulsboro in the NJSIAA Group I final. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Paulsboro reached the Group I semifinals with an undefeated record in 2012 only to be handled by Asbury Park at Pine Belt Arena. The Red Raiders again made it to Toms River for the semifinals the following year with only two losses, but again were no match for a Shore opponent - this time Point Pleasant Beach.

"It used to be Central Jersey was just a quick stop on the way to the championship game," said Paulsboro coach Sean Collins, who led A.P. Schalick to a Group I final in 2005 and is making his first trip with the Red Raiders on Sunday vs. University of Newark at Rutgers University. "Not anymore. We got it handed to us by two really good teams those two years, and we have seniors on this team who played as sophomores and remember our struggles in this building.

"We got everything we could handle today, too. We didn't play our best offensive game, but credit to Shore; they are tough. We knew we needed to stop (Largey), but he is so skilled, it basically got to a point where we decided that he was going to get his and we were just going to try to limit their other guys."

Shore nearly continued Paulsboro's recurring nightmare against the Shore Conference in Toms River thanks, in large part, to Largey, who poured in a game-high 31 points in his final high school game. Thursday marked the fourth game of at least 30 points for the versatile 6-foot-5 senior, three of which came in postseason tournament games and the other in a win over St. John Vianney that clinched Shore a share of the Class A Central division title.

"It's been a great, but I couldn't do it without everybody else on the team," Largey said. "Whether it was a guy at the end of the bench passing me water to the guys setting screens in the game, everybody was a part of it."

Shore Regional senior Dan Largey poured in a game-high 31 points in his final high school game as the Blue Devils came up just short against Paulsboro. (Photo by Sport Shots WLB)

Largey scored 11 of Shore's 13 points in the final quarter Thursday and scored four points in one possession to cut Paulsboro's lead to 49-48 with 2:15 left. Raiders junior John Pellegrini was hit with a technical foul for objecting to a foul call and Largey knocked down the technical free throws with 2:39 to pull Shore within three. He then capped the possession with a fadeaway jumper on the block that cut the Paulsboro lead to one.

Senior Saleem Little knocked down two free throws on the other end and Paulsboro forced the last of 14 Shore turnovers to get the ball back with a chance to seal the game. Shore's defense, however, forced a turnover on the other end, with senior Kevin Bloodgood securing the steal for the Red Raiders' 18th turnover of the game against Shore's 1-3-1 defense.

Largey drew a foul on the other end of the turnover and knocked down both ends of a one-and-one to inch Shore closer, 51-50, with 1:15 left. Largey went 12-for-12 from the free-throw line Thursday, making him 52-for-54 from the line during the state tournament and 35-for-35 over Shore's last three playoff wins. He went 15-for-15 from the line in Shore's sectional final win over Point Beach on Tuesday.

"I've been playing with him since he first picked up a basketball in sixth grade," senior Jack Byrne said of Largey, whom Byrne said was a swimmer before beginning organized basketball. "Seeing what he can do now, it's unreal. We always joke about how before, he couldn't even jump over a piece of paper. Now he's jumping all over the place and putting the ball in the basket like it's nothing."

Little missed on a drive to the basket on Paulsboro's next possession, and after he rebounded his own miss, Shore senior Rob Gialanella stripped the ball away to give Shore the ball back with a minute left and a chance to take the lead.

The Blue Devils ran the clock down to 20 seconds before Largey made his move. He floated a running shot over a defender that missed off the backboard and went out of bounds off a Red Raiders player to give Shore another shot with 15 seconds left. Largey again got the ball and drove to the elbow before throwing up an off-balance shot as he was going to the ground.

"I had to put it in his hands," Shore coach Frank Carmody said of Largey. "He scored I don't know how many in a row for us. We ran a one-four low there, and I wanted him shooting it. He'd been taking his guy all night, and he just made a beautiful shot a couple possessions before. I was hoping, at worst, he'd get the foul call, but he didn't get fouled on that play. That was the right call."

"After the technical foul, I hit the jumper and we cut it to one and at that point, we felt like we were in position to win," Largey said. "We got the stops we needed, and we got a decent shot. We just couldn't get it to go."

Shore had to foul twice in order to send Paulsboro to the line because the Blue Devils had only five team fouls heading into that deciding offensive possession. Paulsboro inbounded the ball after the first foul with 5.2 seconds showing on the clock, and although Shore immediately fouled Little when he caught the ball off the inbounds, the clock did not stop, running all the way to all zeroes.

"The refs did a really good job tonight. I just had that one issue with the clock," Carmody said. "We thought there should have been 5.1 left, and we ended up losing a full second."

The officials put 4.1 seconds back on the clock with Little on the line, and after he missed the front end of a one-and-one, Byrne threw up a desperation half-court shot that missed wide to the left as time expired.

"Paulsboro is a really good team and were really well-coached," Byrne said. "They threw some different looks at us defensively. They started with the pressure, then switched to more of a half-court man with a guy clogging to middle to stop our penetration. That was working for us before the last couple possessions, but they adjusted and stopped us, so kudos to them."

The four-point possession by Largey late in the fourth was the third time that Shore prevented Paulsboro from potentially burying the Blue Devils with a game-deciding run. Paulsboro caused 10 first-half turnovers and forced the Blue Devils into 5-for-22 shooting at one point late in the first half, resulting in a 24-17 Red Raiders lead.

Shore, however, mounted a 9-2 run to close the first half, and the last seven of those points came from Largey. Byrne drove the lane to cut the deficit to five and Largey hit two free throws to make it three before sophomore Cherron Quarles hit a floater to push the Paulsboro lead back to five

Largey then capped the half with a three from the right wing, followed by a baseline fadeaway as time expired to send the teams to the locker room tied at 26.

After senior DeShawn Burgess hit a three to open the second half for Paulsboro, Largey led the Blue Devils on a 7-0 run to take a 33-29 lead, scoring five of the seven, with Byrne adding a jumper.

Paulsboro answered right back with a 12-2 run, sparked by Fairleigh Dickinson recruit Theo Holloway, who scored seven straight points to turn a 35-34 Shore lead into a 41-35 Red Raiders advantage. That spurt by Holloway was the most noise he made on Thursday, as the Blue Devils limited him to 11 points.

"Our 1-3-1 worked for most of the game except for that one spurt by Theo Holloway," Byrne said. "He's a great player, and he made some tough shots. We wanted to force him to make tough shots and he made them."

The Red Raiders appeared poised to take that six-point edge into the fourth, but Byrne stole the ball in the back court and made a running shot just before the third-quarter buzzer sounded to pull Shore within 41-37 heading to the final eight minutes.

Byrne finished with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and five steals while playing at the top of Shore's disruptive 1-3-1 zone.

"Jack Byrne's the most underrated player in the Shore Conference," Carmody said. "If there are people who don't realize it, then I just need to say that because that guy has been that good for us."

Bloodgood, meanwhile, added nine points and three assists in his final game. The trio of Bloodgood, Largey and Byrne all came into the program as freshmen with expectations of winning a sectional championship. After Byrne and Bloodgood established themselves during their first two high school seasons, Largey emerged as a varsity standout as a junior. Bloodgood and Largey both finished their careers as 1,000-point scorers, with Largey doing almost all of his scoring over his junior and senior years.

"It became about 'we,'" said Carmody, who took over the Blue Devils this season after a long career as a college coach, both as an assistant at Northwestern and Caldwell College. "I told them it was French. They laughed about it, but they bought into it. If you want to play an 'I' game, go play golf."

The Blue Devils' path to the Group I semifinals was a steady progression. After losing in the first round of the Central Jersey Group II playoffs as freshmen, Shore lost to Point Beach in the Central Jersey Group I semifinals in 2013 and again to the Garnet Gulls in the 2014 sectional title game. Armed with an all-senior starting lineup, this year's team finished the job by beating Point Beach on the road on Tuesday and nearly pushed the program into a Group championship game for just the second time in history.

"Coming out of the locker room, our (athletic director Harry Chebookjian) told us that this was the best team Shore Regional has ever had," Largey said. "To win the first sectional championship in 48 years by beating Point Beach and to almost beat a team like Paulsboro to get to the state final, it's all you could ask for."

 

Box Score

Paulsboro 51, Shore 50

1

2

3

4

F

Paulsboro (29-2)

15

11

15

10

51

Shore (21-6)

13

13

11

13

50

 

Paulsboro (51): Saheem Little 4 3-5 12, Theo Holloway 5 0-1 11, John Pellegrini 0 0-0 0, Brandon Hamilton 4 2-2 11, DeShawn Burgess 3 1-4 8, Devon Williams 1 0-0 3, Dehron Holloway 1 0-0 2, Cherron Quarles 1 0-0 2, Tyrique King 1 0-0 2. Totals: 20 6-12 51

Three-pointers: Little, Holloway, Hamilton, Burgess, Williams

Shore (50): Rob Gialanella 1 0-0 2, Kevin Bloodgood 4 0-0 9, Matt McCarthy 0 0-0 0, Dan Largey 9 12-12 31, Jack Byrne 4 0-0 8, Ryan Jones 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 12-12 50

Three-pointers: Bloodgood, Largey