LITTLE SILVER - While the offense is still a work in progress capable of producing some gray hairs for head coach Scott Martin, Red Bank Regional showed on Saturday that its defense is good enough to carry the Bucs while they work out the kinks early in the season.

In the quarterfinals of the Albert E. Martin Buc Classic, the third-seeded Bucs forced 16 turnovers and helped combat their trend of slow starts to knock off sixth-seeded Freehold Boro, 49-41, to advance to face second-seeded Shore Regional in the semifinals at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday back on their home floor. The victory improved the Bucs to 3-0, continuing the momentum of an underdog state playoff run last season in which they reached the Central Jersey Group III final as the sixth seed.

Red Bank junior Sadiq Palmer dropped in a game-high 16 points to help the Bucs advance to the semifinals of the Albert E. Martin Buc Classic with a win over Freehold Boro. (Photo by Scott Stump)

"This year we're finding ways to win,'' Martin said.

In Red Bank's season opener, a one-point win over Wall, the Bucs went scoreless in the first quarter. In an overtime victory against Neptune in their second game, they were down double digits by early in the second quarter. Saturday marked the first time in the young season that the Bucs have won a quarter other than the fourth or overtime, as they jumped out to a 12-5 lead by forcing nine first-quarter turnovers.

"We made a commitment yesterday in practice and really stressed coming out of the gate strong,'' Martin said.

"Coach has been saying it for a week now,'' said junior guard Sadiq Palmer, who had a game-high 16 points. "Even against Neptune we came out slow, so we had to start stronger."

Freehold only attempted seven shots in the first quarter thanks to turnovers caused by Red Bank's trademark full-court pressure and its halfcourt zone defense that it often extends to the middle of the court because of its athletic guards and wing players.

"We like to play pressure defense, try and get steals and go the other way,'' said junior point guard Jack Navitsky.

Red Bank started the second quarter on an 11-4 run to push the lead to 23-9, using its defense to create transition opportunities off turnovers. The Colonials (1-2) closed the gap to 23-14 with a 5-0 run before the half, but Red Bank forced them into 4-for-17 shooting from the field and 12 turnovers in the half to build a lead it would not relinquish.

The key was staying in front of Freehold senior point guard Josh Dixon, a star running back for the Colonials' football team who had a team-high 14 points in the loss. He was 1-for-7 from the field in the first half and 4-for-17 for the game while being forced to primarily settle for contested jumpers.

"He likes to drive to the right, so we wanted to sit on his right hand and have help 'D' to the left,'' Navitsky said. "They like to work off the dribble and drive and kick for threes. That's what they're all about, so we had to disrupt that."

Freehold kept battling, though, whittling the lead to 25-20 early in the second quarter after Ky Watts nailed a 3-pointer, but Red Bank answered with a 3-pointer by senior Justin Gilson and took a 34-24 lead into the final period.

The Colonials cut the margin to 36-30 after a three-pointer by Chris Cassandra and then forced a turnover with 4:13 left in the game to potentially trim the lead to one possession. However, Freehold's Daniel Gerwitz was whistled for a technical foul after getting tangled up with Red Bank forward Eddie Hendrex in the backcourt on the ground after the Colonials had already pushed the ball into the frontcourt. That resulted in a 38-30 lead for the Bucs after guard Anthony Mitchell (10 points) hit both technical free throws.

A pair of free throws by Cassandra cut it to 42-37 with 58 seconds left in the game, but Navitsky went 5-for-6 from the foul line down the stretch to close out the win. While the victory kept the Bucs unbeaten, Martin knows they still have a lot to work on if they are going to contend for championships. They shot 18-for-43 (41 percent) while turning it over 15 times in the win.

"I'm frustrated by our offense,'' Martin said. "With the starting quarterback (Navitsky), starting wide receiver (Palmer), All-State soccer player (Gilson) in the starting lineup, as much I could say, 'Hey, these guys have been starting for three years,' rust is rust. I think we're still rusty. I think we're better offensively than what we've shown."

"It's definitely a struggle, but it seems like we're getting back into the swing of things,'' Navitsky said.

Box score

Red Bank 49, Freehold Boro 41

Freehold (41): Dixon 4 4-4 14, Watts 2 0-0 6, Hannigan 2 4-4 9, Cassandra 1 2-2 5, Gerwitz 1 1-2 4, Worthy 0 3-6 3, Santos 0 0-0 0, Gill 0 0-2 0, Mastrianni 0 0-0 0, Jubilee 0 0-0 0. Totals: 10 14-18 41.

Red Bank (49): Navitsky 1 5-6 7, Mitchell 4 2-2 10, Gilson 2 2-4 7, Christie 0 0-0 0, Hendrex 1 0-2 2, Ferrogine 2 0-0 4, Reardon 1 0-0 3, Kelly 0 0-0 0, Birch 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 9-14 49.

Freehold (1-2)      5  9  10 17 - 41

Red Bank (3-0)   12 11 11 15 - 49

Three-pointers: (R) Gilson, Reardon; (F) Dixon 2, Watts 2, Hannigan, Cassandra, Gerwitz. Fouled out: None.