All for one: Toms River North tops Jackson Memorial
JACKSON - Brielle Bisogno and Jenna Paul would like to make a public service announcement, one that dispels this growing perception that Toms River North revolves solely around their scoring virtues.
Yes, it’s undeniable the senior duo has quite a prolific offensive presence and their gaudy numbers attest to that point. But, there is another number that better represents the Mariners as a whole, earned under less attractive light yet more defining of exactly what Toms River North is all about.
So, before saluting Paul and her 20.0 points per game or Bisogno for her 16.9 a night, the two only ask you spare a second to appreciate the invaluable work of their supporting cast, to reserve some praise for the wing defense and rebounding of junior Kristina Johnson, to notice the rapid maturation of freshmen Sydney Howell and Faith Wavershak and recognize the one thing they all enthusiastically do together – defend.
While the usual outputs from Paul and Bisogno proved necessary Monday night, so too were the specialties of Johnson, Howell and Wavershak in order for No. 8 Toms River North to put away host Jackson Memorial, 58-53, in an A South showdown.
"It seems like everyone is always saying there's only two players," noted Bisogno of how the Mariners (10-1, 7-0) are often described. "But, that's not how it is. It isn't just me and Jenna on the court. Kristina, Sydney and Faith make big contributions and I'm so proud of them."
Bisogno pumped in a team-high 22 points to go with five rebounds, four steals and three assists and Paul recorded her sixth double-double, complemening 19 points with 13 rebounds. But, while easy to overlook the work of Johnson, who closed out shooters on the wing with such zest, Memorial's bids for 3-pointers were often unleashed from well beyond the arc, the hounding defensive hustle and heady ball movement of Wavershak in the backcourt and the timely perimeter touch of Howell, without any of those in the mix, the outcome may have been far different.
And, it was needed in order to neutralize an epic performance from Jackson Memorial's Dani Evans. The 5-11 senior swing was impactful and efficient at both ends of the court, cleaning up 22 points and 15 rebounds.
"We talked about needing everyone to step up in this one," said Toms River North coach Vicki Gillen, whose group is limiting opponents to just 37.5 points per game, arguably the most telling number of all when speaking of the Mariners. "I loved the fact we forced them to shoot so far back from the arc and our hustle on the glass. This was a total team effort."
Things heated up in the third quarter. The Jaguars (5-5, 4-2) erased a 26-22 halftime deficit, fueled by Evans, an NJIT commit. She flipped in six straight points for Jackson to help close the gap before junior guard Kristina Donza broke a personal scoreless spell with a 3-pointer that thurst Jackson Memorial in front, 35-32, with 1:32 showing in the period.
That lead was shortlived. Paul countered with a putback before punctuating the period with a buzzer-beating triple that reclaimed the lead for for Toms River North, 37-36, and it never looked back.
Howell kicked off the fourth with consecutive threes, one off a dish from Paul, the other on a Johnson assist, to push the margin to 43-38. Johnson set up Paul for yet another long-range jumper - the Mariners hit 10 in the contest - and the two of them, along with Bisogno, were responsible for six points apiece during a game-breaking 18-8 tear that gave the Mariners a 55-44 cushion with just over a minute to play.
Maybe the biggest reason North sits atop A South and boasts such an impressive overall mark hinges on Johnson, Howell and Wavershak findning their niche within the system and making the most of their time. Johnson eased some of the board burden off Paul by pulling down 10 rebounds to accompany her eight points and Howell gave Jackson another shooter to be wary of, dropping in nine points that were all reaped from behind the 3-point line.
Factor in Wavershak's grit on defense and unselfishness with the basketball and the formula for succes begins to materialize.
"I think it's those little things that add up to help you win games," said Johnson. "It's not all about scoring."
One of the issues that seemed concerning for Toms River North in the preseason was the abundance of youth. Six freshman comprise half of the Mariner roster. Yet, how quickly Howell, Wavershak, Brandi Manna, Gia Pissott and Jaclyn Benvenuto have acclimated to varsity level is a testament to the faith they've been injected with from Paul and Bisogno.
"It definitely shows they have trust in me when they put the ball in my hands to shoot in a big spot," said Howell. "Having that faith that I'll take care of it means a lot."
Donza finished with 12 points, sinking a trio of 3-pointers in the final minute to assure everyone there's no quit in the Jags, as well as seven rebounds and four assists and flashy junior point guard Bianca Giordano handed out nine assists, gripped five rebounds and had three steals as well as five points.
Toms River North (10-1, 7-0) 13 13 11 21 --- 58
Jackson Memorial (5-5, 4-2) 11 11 14 17 --- 53
Toms River North: Brielle Bisogno 2-3-9-22; Kristina Johnson 2-1-1-8; Jaclyn Benvenuto 0-0-0-0; Faith Wavershak 0-0-0-0; Jenna Paul 4-3-2-19; Brandi Manna 0-0-0-0; Sydney Howell 0-3-0-9; Gia Pissott 0-0-0-0.
Jackson Memorial: Rachel Capua 2-1-1-8; Bianca Giordano 1-1-0-5; Kristina Donza 0-4-0-12; Mackenzie Dakin 3-0-0-6; Haley Pitlak 0-0-0-0.