TOMS RIVER - Just the sight of the other team wearing gray jerseys with "East" on them would normally be enough motivation in itself for Toms River South, but there was some extra incentive for the Indians on Thursday night.

Not only could they pick up a win at the expense of an old rival, they also had the opportunity to bounce the Raiders from contention for a Shore Conference Tournament berth while at least giving themselves a chance to possibly grab a piece of the Class A South title. The Shore Conference's leading scorer, senior guard Tymere Berry, led the way by pouring in 35 points, grabbing 9 rebounds, dishing out 5 assists and making 5 steals as the Indians dashed the Raiders' SCT hopes with a 67-56 victory on the road.

Toms River South senior star Tymere Berry poured in 35 points to help the Indians eliminate rival Toms River East from a berth in the Shore Conference Tournament and give themselves an outside chance at sharing the Class A South title. (Photo by Scott Stump)

"It's always fun to play a sister school because it's always a great atmosphere,'' Berry said. "They're doing pretty well this year, so it was fun to come in their building and knock them out of the Shore Conference Tournament. They played well the last time we played them, so we knew this time they were going to give us a good run. We knew were going to have to come in and play hard because it's not like it's been playing East every other year."

"Besides the fact that it's a rival, we knew coming in it was going to be a battle because their backs were against the wall, and we were ready for the fight,'' said first-year Toms River South coach Curt DeFillippo.

Berry single-handedly outscored Toms River East 21-19 in the first half as Toms River South (13-6, 10-3) built a 34-19 lead at the break. The Raiders, who have made twice as many 3-pointers as their opponents this season, went 0-for-12 from behind the arc in the first half.

"We've never been 0-fer at halftime,'' Toms River East coach Jim Dempsey said. "When you live or die with the three, which we do, it gets magnified. Our problem is defense. At some point, you've got to be able to grind it out. We've never won a game this season where our opponent has scored more than 59 points."

However, in front of a packed crowd on their home floor, the Raiders (8-10, 6-8) still chopped the lead all the way down to four points with 2:19 left in the game before the Indians closed on an 8-1 run to seal the win. Senior guard Khaleel Greene added 15 points in the win, 13 of which came in the second half.

"We always need his energy,'' Berry said of Greene. "It's tough to play with him on the bench because he's such a sparkplug. He hustles, and that's the type of player you want on the floor."

Toms River East remained committed to its man-to-man defense against the explosive backcourt tandem of Greene and Berry, often running a second defender at Berry, but could not keep him in front of them as he got into the lane early and often.

"I try to mix my game up a little bit,'' Berry said. "If I'm not hitting from the outside like usual, I try to attack the rim and be versatile and do whatever I can to help my team win."

The Indians took a 49-34 lead into the fourth quarter thanks to a combined 13 third-quarter points by Greene and Berry, but the Raiders kept chipping away.

 

They got into the bonus with 6:41 left in the game, going 8-for-8 from the foul line to start the final period. Sophomore guard Phil Lingat, who led the Raiders with 17 points, scored seven points in a 15-5 run that cut the lead to 54-49 with 4:46 left in the game.

Every time Toms River East threatened to make it a one-possession game, Berry and Greene had an answer. After a driving bucket by junior Ryan West (11 points) cut it to 55-51, Greene scored inside. After a bucket by Lingat again cut it to four, Berry scored on a putback. When senior Jon Meola dropped in a layup and was fouled to cut the Indians' advantage to 59-55 with 2:19 to go, Berry came back and hit one of two free throws.

A critical sequence then allowed the Indians to put the game away as West missed a corner 3-pointer that was part of a 4-for-27 showing from 3-point range by the Raiders in the game.

"We know we've got quick guards and we can guard anyone in the Shore Conference,'' Berry said. "We pressured the guards so they couldn't get open looks, and thankfully tonight they weren't hitting."

Toms River South then converted on the other end to ice the game. Senior guard Malcolm Gillespie snatched the rebound and got it ahead in transition to sophomore Nykie Lofton, who scored and was fouled. He completed the 3-point play for a 63-55 lead with 1:32 left in the game.

The win was the latest in the Indians' quest to cement a top 10 seed in the upcoming SCT, and it also kept the pressure on rival Toms River North. If the Mariners get upset by Jackson Memorial on Friday, it would allow Toms River South to tie them for the Class A South title.

While it was a disappointing loss for the Raiders, the atmosphere alone showed how far they have come in two seasons under Dempsey. They have won a combined 18 games in two seasons after winning 21 total games in the four previous seasons. The Raiders also have qualified for the NJSIAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

Toms River East had a great home atmosphere in the hard-fought loss to Toms River South and continues to make strides under coach Jim Dempsey. (Photo by Scott Stump)

"I keep telling these guys that we can do this,'' Dempsey said. "When was the last time there was a packed house at East for a basketball game on February 12th? We've been right there with some good teams, but we've just got to learn to get some stops in the end."

Meanwhile, with the high-scoring Berry, who signed with Monmouth University on a football scholarship last week, the Indians look to be as dangerous as any team in the upcoming SCT.

"We've been an underdog since the WOBM Tournament,'' Berry said. "We've been proving everyone wrong in the Shore, so why stop now?"

Box score

Toms River South 67, Toms River East 56

TR South (67): Berry 13 7-8 35, Greene 7 1-3 15, Gillespie 1 0-0 2, Lofton 1 2-3 4, Fall 4 0-1 8, Shiffer 0 0-0 0, Schwartz 1 0-0 2, Parker 0 1-2 1, Peterson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 27 11-17 67.

TR East (56): Amadeo 4 0-0 8, Meola 1 3-5 5, Gant 1 0-0 3, Gearity 0 0-0 0, Nicol 0 0-0 0, West 3 4-4 11, C. Lingat 1 2-4 4, P. Lingat 3 11-13 17, Engelhard 2 2-2 8, Saunders 0 0-1 0. Totals: 15 22-29 56.

TR South (13-6, 10-3)  20 14 15 18 - 67

TR East (8-10, 6-8)       9  10 15 22 - 56

Three-pointers: (TRS) Berry 2; (TRE) Engelhard 2, Gant, West. Fouled out: None.