TOMS RIVER - The lopsided wins and breakneck pace with which the Toms River North boys basketball team has played to open the season was bound to meet some serious resistance sooner rather than later and the resistance came in the form of St. Rose in Thursday's WOBM Christmas Classic semifinal.

In their first serious test of the young season, the top-seeded Mariners passed with a come-from-behind, 57-54 win over the No. 5 Purple Roses that secured them a fourth trip to the WOBM final in the past five years. Toms River North will take on third-seeded Freehold Township at 7:30 p.m. in Friday night's championship game at Pine Belt Arena.

"I feel like we needed (a close game), especially for the younger guys," senior Mike Nyisztor said. "Some of our guys don't have varsity experience and this got them used to a close game in a big atmosphere."

Toms River North junior Jaden Rhoden, pictured during action last season. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Senior Jaden Rhoden scored eight of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, during which Toms River North (5-0) took its first lead of the game and eventually closed out the win. Rhoden added nine rebounds, four assists and four steals and three of his four baskets in the fourth quarter gave Toms River North the lead.

"Most teams, we'll trap them and they'll fall into the speed that we want to play, but St. Rose didn't do that," Rhoden said. "They had a gameplan and they executed it really well in the first quarter. They were really well-coached and they kind of dictated the speed of the game, but we just knew that we could still go at the pace we wanted to on offense and that's what we tried to focus on."

Nyisztor scored 11 of his 15 points in the third quarter to go with eight rebounds and later hit two free throws with 8.9 seconds to stretch the Mariners lead to 57-54. St. Rose guard John Scheininger got off a 27-footer before the clock ran out, but the potential game-tying shot came up just short.

Holden Petrick also scored 13 points for Toms River North, including a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter - both of which cut St. Rose's lead to one point.

"He (Petrick) has definitely helped us out a lot," Rhoden said. "It gives us another three-point shooter so teams can't just guard (Nyisztor) and think that's going to take away our three-point shot."

Petrick's first three of the fourth pulled the Mariners within 41-40 and a basket by Rhoden then gave Toms River North its first lead of the game, 42-41. The Mariners fell behind 12-2 during the first quarter and spend the rest of the game chipping away at the St. Rose lead.

"They came out hot and it was kind of like a quick jab to the jaw," Nyisztor said. "It stunned us a little bit, but we just collected ourselves and kept chipping away and chipping away until we were back in the game."

Despite rallying all the way back to take its first lead, Toms River North was not rid of the Purple Roses (4-2). Junior Dave Calloway capped a wild play with a lay-in off a pass from classmate John Crowley to give the Roses the lead back, followed by a three from Crowley that extended the St. Rose lead back to 46-42.

At that point, Toms River North hit its highest gear to take control of the game for good. The Mariners embarked on an 11-1 run, sparked by Petrick, Roden and 6-foot-5 junior Travis Holland.

Petrick began the run with his second three-pointer of the quarter and, once again, Rhoden came through with the go-ahead basket on a putback following a miss by Petrick. After St. Rose senior Brendan Hueth tied the game by making one of two free throws, Rhoden scored a tie-breaking bucket on a running back shot as he was fouled.

After Rhoden missed the free throw, Holland blocked a shot on the other end and knocked down two free throws to extend the lead to 51-47. The junior turned in another big defensive play on the very next St. Rose possession when he stole the ball and took it in for a layup to give Toms River North its biggest lead of the game, 53-47.

"Travis Holland was kind of down early," Nyisztor said. "He's a first-year varsity player and I think he might have been having trouble with the speed of the game, but he made a bunch of huge plays for us and came up big when we needed it. He's going to be a big player for us."

St. Rose fought up the final buzzer and stayed in the game thanks to a three by Scheininger, as well as some struggles at the free-throw line by the Mariners. After Scheininger's three rimmed in to cut the deficit to 53-50, Rhoden drove for another score to make it 55-50. Hueth came back with a drive to the basket and after Nyisztor missed two free throws two possessions later, Hueth scored again to make it 55-54.

Nyisztor again went to the line with 8.9 seconds left and his team leading by one and this time, knocked down both shots. The two free throws were a positive finish to an 8-for-20 showing at the foul line.

Hueth led St. Rose with 17 points, 11 of which came in the second half after he sat most of the second quarter with two fouls. Scheininger and fellow junior Dave Calloway also finished with 10 points each in the loss.

Toms River North will look to win its third WOBM title in five years after winning in 2012 and 2014. The Mariners were the runner-up to Manasquan last year and will take on an undefeated Freehold Township team that just beat the defending champion by a 15-point margin on Thursday night.

"They play a lot like us," Rhoden said of Freehold Township. "They look to get turnovers and turn them into fastbreaks. They are big on tempo and they have a lot of good athletes who want to play fast. I think it'll be a good game. Hopefully we can dictate the pace."

 

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