Boys Basketball – Dwaine Jones’s Last-Second Three Lifts Neptune Past Ewing
NEPTUNE - Neptune junior Dwaine Jones did not want the last memory he gave his senior teammates during the 2017-18 season to be him letting them down in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Playoffs.
After a rocky game for the junior guard, Jones finished off Wednesday's sectional quarterfinal against defending CJ III champion Ewing with a moment his teammates won't soon forget.
With time winding down on Neptune's 20-plus win season, Jones buried a go-ahead three-pointer from the left wing with four seconds left and the Scarlet Fliers - the No. 4 seed in Central Jersey Group III - stunned the Blue Devils in thrilling fashion, 45-44.
"All my career, I always wanted the big shot and I didn't want to send my seniors home. They have worked way too hard," Jones said. "Even though I made that shot, I'm still really down on myself because I almost cost us, but I'm thankful to get this win and keep playing for a championship."
Prior to his last-second heroics, Jones shot 3-for-11 from the floor, 2-for-4 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and after committing a turnover with five minutes left in the fourth, was whistled for a technical foul.
On his team's final offensive possession of the game, however, Jones turned heartbreak into redemption and kept his team's hopes of a 15th sectional championship alive.
"He was having a really emotional night and he was able to turn it around at the end of the game and hit a big shot and I'm really happy for him, because he cares so much," Neptune coach Joe Fagan said of Jones. "He wants to win, he wants his team to win, he wants to be a good player, he wants to play at the next level and part of doing all of those things is maintaining your composure and making good decisions."
Jones finished with 12 points and freshman teammate Sam Fagan poured in a game-high 14 points, including a pull-up jumper with 17.5 seconds left that cut Ewing's lead to 43-42.
After Fagan's jumper, Neptune sent Ewing guard Isaiah Sparks to the free-throw line for two shots. Sparks missed the first and made the second with 14 seconds left.
"He has incredible poise and unbelievable instincts for someone his age," Fagan said of his son, Sam. "It doesn't matter how fast the game is or how big the game is, he is always able to maintain his poise, his focus and then rely on his instincts."
After taking the inbound pass, Jones rushed up the left side of the floor, changed direction twice and after getting a screen from senior Jared Kimbrough, he fired a contested shot from behind the arc that found its mark and brought the gym at Neptune High School to life.
"We've been in some battles this year and our team was feeling real dead-legged today, so I wasn't trying to get to overtime," Jones said. "I wanted to win the game right there for the seniors and after I came off that screen, I knew I had a shot. It was do-or-die and I didn't want to let the guys down."
Ewing took a timeout with 3.6 seconds left to set up a final play and Sparks's running three-pointer hit the back rim as time expired.
Neptune survived a battle with the Blue Devils despite a season-low nine points from Kimbrough, who shot 3-for-12 from the floor. Kimbrough's shooting struggles, however, did not affect his rebounding and defense as the La Salle commit hauled in 17 boards and blocked five shots while also setting the ball screen to spring Jones for the winning shot.
"He wasn't finishing like he usually does tonight and I think that has a lot to do with this being the second game of the week and he's got a cold he's dealing with," Fagan said of Kimbrough. "He didn't have his best effort, but he gutted it out the last quarter and defensively and getting rebounds, he was the same Jared Kimbrough he's been for us all year. Those are the workmanlike games and I told him, 'You have got to be a workman tonight.'"
Kimbrough scored on a layup late in the third quarter to give Neptune a 27-26 lead, its first since 4-3 in the opening minutes. Fagan later hit an early-fourth-quarter three and went 1-for-2 from the line to put his team up, 34-30, but Ewing responded with a 9-0 run.
Senior Keyshawn Preston scored eight of the nine points during the run, including a go-ahead putback to make it 35-34 and a three-point play that stretched the lead to 39-34. The other point during the run came on a technical foul shot by Miles Reed fouling the technical on Jones.
Neptune scored four points from the free-throw line over its next three trips down the floor, with Kimbrough hitting a pair and Jones going 1-for-2 on back-to-back trips.
Senior Shemar Robinson - who led Neptune with 13 points and was a member of the Lawrence team that beat Neptune in overtime in last year's CJ III quarterfinals - scored on a drive to the basket to make it 41-38 and after a missed three by Jones, Caleb Stokes missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to give Neptune the ball back with under a minute to go.
Fagan found senior Scott Fields for a layup to cut the deficit to one, but Stokes came back and made both ends of a 1-and-1 to push the Ewing lead back to three with 31.6 seconds left. Fagan then started the game-ending sequence with his elbow jumper that cut the Ewing lead to 43-42.
Ewing took a 24-19 lead into the second half before Neptune held the Blue Devils to four points in the third quarter, including a scoreless stretch of more than six minutes.
Neptune advances to play top-seeded Moorestown Friday on the road, where the Fliers will look to earn a trip to a sectional final for the first time since winning Central Jersey Group III back in 2012.
"I like our chances," Fagan said. "I like them going in and I still like them. Moorestown is a good, solid team and they are going to be hard to beat. I've seen (No. 2 seed) Nottingham and they are good and very talented. But I still like our team. If we are playing good, I like our chances."