TOMS RIVER - The Toms River North boys basketball team had to re-invent itself coming into the season with three new starters and has had to play without multiple starters from this year's team on a handful of occasions.

Down one of its top players for the remainder of the NJSIAA Tournament, the Mariners have once again shuffled the deck and on Thursday against Howell in the South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals, Toms River North came up with a handful of aces.

Senior Travis Holland scored a game-high 25 points to go with nine rebounds and senior forward Eliot Daks put up 18 points and 13 rebounds to headline an 80-64 win by the No. 2 seed Thursday in the South Jersey Group IV bracket over the No. 10 Rebels.

The performance was a sign of progress for a group playing without senior Holden Petrick, who left the team last week for personal reasons, according to coach Rory Caswell. Along with Holland, Petrick was one of two returning starters from a 2016-17 team that lost to Shawnee in double overtime in the South Jersey Group IV final.

"We know we can't be selfish - we have to adapt," Daks said. "We can't take everyone one-on-one - we have to use our heads and use each other."

Now with Holland and Daks - who came off the bench on last year's team - leading the way, this version of Toms River North is one win away from getting back to the sectional final for a second straight year. Standing in the Mariners' way on Saturday will be No. 3 seed Atlantic City, which will make the trip up the Parkway to face Toms River North at RWJ Barnabas Health Center at 8 p.m.

Holland and Daks were two of four Toms River North players to reach double-figure scoring on Thursday. Senior Mark Mogarte poured in 11 points and handed out eight assists while sophomore Najae Hallenback netted 10 points while grabbing six rebounds for the Mariners.

"This is definitely a totally different team from last year," Holland said. "Last year, we basically played five guards the whole game. This year, we replaced the guards with Eliot and Najae, so we've had a lot more size and rebounding on the floor at all times. They do the job on the boards, the get the ball to the guards and we look to get out in transition."

Sophomore Jakari Spence also came off the bench to turn in nine points, five rebounds and five assists for Toms River North.

Holland was a threat both getting to the basket and from the outside on Thursday, with the 6-foot-5 senior knocking down four three-pointers. Daks and Hallenback, meanwhile, produced in the paint against a smaller Rebels team that handled itself on the glass but could not keep the Mariners off the board around the rim.

"We knew if we got inside and frustrated them early, it would be a hard game for them," Daks said.

Senior Brandon Wilson led four Howell players in double-figure scoring with 17 points. Senior Nasiem Brantley and junior Matt Ganter added 12 points each and senior Eddie Morales chipped in 11 in the loss.

With two double-digit wins under its belt so far in this tournament, the Mariners will take on their toughest test yet in Atlantic City, led by Howard University commit and one of the state's top scorers, Ray Bethea Jr.

"We know they are super athletic and they have a Howard commit in Ray," Holland said. "It's going to be a tough game - they are ranked in the state - but if we come out, pound the ball inside and get our shots, then we'll be fine."

 

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