Boys Basketball – Anderson, No. 7 Midd. South Light Up No. 4 Freehold Township
MIDDLETOWN - Middletown South boys basketball coach Jim Anderson was confident he and his staff had a gameplan that would give his team a chance Tuesday to beat a surging Freehold Township ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.
While hitting some outside shots was part of the projection, no gameplan could have reasonably called for the shooting exhibition, led by Anderson's son, Middletown South turned in on Tuesday.
Junior James Anderson scored a career-high 33 points on 11-for-16 shooting from three-point range and the No. 7 Eagles shot 17-for-28 as a team from beyond the arc to overwhelm the Patriots, 70-54.
"We haven't been shooting great the last couple games, or at least I haven't," Anderson said. "The coaches have been telling me to just keep shooting in practice and getting shots up. Once I hit a couple (tonight), I just started feeling it."
With Tuesday's win, Middletown South pulls into a three-way tie in the loss column with Freehold Township and Christian Brothers Academy for first place in the Shore Conference Class A North.
"We know what they (Freehold Township) like to do and we have been hinting at getting ready for this game for a while now without really saying it," Jim Anderson said. "We have been preparing for the run-and-jump for a couple weeks now and the game plan worked. We told guys they are going to get open looks and you have to be ready to shoot it. I don't think you ever expect to make 17 of them, but we have guys who can make them so it's not a surprise when they go in."
Anderson and Middletown South came out red-hot out of the gate on Tuesday, jumping out to a 17-13 lead by the end of the first quarter on 5-for-6 shooting from long distance. Anderson hit a three-pointer to end the quarter, which was the first strike in a 22-0 run that lasted until the three-minute mark of the second quarter and buried Freehold Township in a 36-13 hole.
At one point late in the second quarter, Middletown South was 11-for-12 from three-point range after making nine consecutive attempts. Anderson was 7-for-8 in the first half while junior Jack Sheridan was 3-for-5 in the first half and 4-for-6 during the entirety of his 14-point performance.
"When you find the open shooters and they're knocking down shots, it's great," Sheridan said. "You have confidence that they are going to knock them down. With James, you get him the ball in the corner, you know he is going to knock it down. That also gave us a lot of energy on defense, got some steals, came right back down the floor and hit another three."
Junior Richie Boyko hit the other two three-pointers and finished with eight points, giving three players the 17 Middletown South three-pointers. Sophomore Luke Albrecht also chipped in seven points, six rebounds and eight assists.
As effective as Middletown South was from the three-point line, the Eagles struggled to finish inside during the first half. They missed their first seven two-point attempts and did not make one until the third minute of the second quarter. Despite going 11-for-15 from three-point distance in the first half, Middletown North shot only 2-for-11 from inside the arc and still led, 40-20, at the break.
Senior Greg Billups led Freehold Township with 12 points as the Patriots dropped their first game since losing to Red Bank Catholic in the WOBM Christmas Classic quarterfinals on Dec. 27.
Middletown South proved, once again, Tuesday that the lack of experience on its roster is no longer an issue, if it ever was one. Anderson is the only player who played meaningful minutes on last season's senior-heavy team and yet here the Eagles are, even with CBA and Freehold Township at the top of the standings and with a chance to climb even higher when they play at CBA on Saturday.
"We were more confident coming into the season than most people probably thought," James Anderson said. "We were playing together in AAU over the summer and we play together really well. We move the ball and we have confidence in each other."
"I just knew that we played so well in the offseason and I have done this long enough that I knew we were a dangerous team," said Anderson, who is in the second season of his second stint as Middletown South head coach. "We have shooters, so we're always in the game. Sometimes they go in like tonight and when they don't, it's harder to win. But we do other things well to the point where if we make some shots, we're dangerous."
The Eagles have also proven to be resilient. After losing on opening night to a Manalapan team that just ended a 10-game losing streak on Tuesday with its second win of the season, they won three straight games and reached the WOBM Christmas Classic semifinals.
"Of course, we knew (Freehold Township) was coming off a big win over CBA and they were ranked pretty high in the Shore," Sheridan said. "We have had a pretty tough schedule so far and this was just another notch on the belt. We love the tough games and this was a fun one tonight."
After two straight losses to end 2018, Middletown South opened the New Year with four consecutive wins before losing to Red Bank Catholic on Saturday at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase at Brookdale.
"We really got our act together these last couple days to get ready to play a good team tonight," James Anderson said. "We have to keep that going with CBA coming up."