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LAKEWOOD - The optimism with which the Lakewood boys basketball team entered this season was quickly put to the test on opening night, when the Piners coughed up a double-digit, second-half lead and lost to Barnegat in overtime.

One month later, the Piners found themselves in an almost identical position on Thursday night, only this time on their home floor. Instead of folding in the face of another Barnegat comeback, Lakewood banded together and kept its roll in the Shore Conference Class B South alive.

Freshman Respect Tyleek scored the go-ahead basket with 35 seconds left and Lakewood closed out a 46-42 win over Barnegat for their sixth straight win within Class B South after starting 0-2.

"I told the guys, 'We have been in this situation before," Lakewood coach Randy Holmes said. "We need to band together and help each through this and pull each other through the storm.'"

Tyleek had only one point in the first 31:25 of the game but in the final 35 seconds, the Piners rookie posted four points, two steals and assisted senior Ryan Savoy on a two-handed dunk.

Savoy played through a sprained ankle, according to Holmes, and notched seven points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Freshman Samir Padilla, meanwhile, led Lakewood with 16 points.

"He has been showing trust in the younger guys throughout the season so far," Holmes said of Savoy, who is averaging better than 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks for the season. "With Ryan I knew his presence alone would give us a chance to win tonight, even if he wasn't 100 percent.

"He (Savoy) has been deferring sometimes to those freshmen. They have a certain mindset about them - as Kobe Bryant would call it, the 'Mamba Mentality.' Sometimes I have to reign them in because every shot is a good shot in their mind."

Lakewood senior Ryan Savoy. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Lakewood senior Ryan Savoy. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Lakewood appeared to be in control of the game early in the third quarter. A three-pointer by senior T.J. Paturzo put the Piners ahead, 28-16, in the first minute of the half and they led 30-19 with under six minutes to go in the quarter.

Barnegat then responded with 17-3 run, taking the lead on a three-pointer by senior Isaiah Gerena and going up 36-33 on a drive by senior Nick Revello.

Lakewood tied the game at 38-38 on a three by Padilla and the Piners went back in front on a runner off the glass by senior Sean Antoine. Barnegat then evened up the score at 40-40 on a hanging shot in the lane by junior Tyler Quinn.

Barnegat had a chance to take the lead with 47 seconds left but senior Brendan Revello missed a pair of free throws. Tyleek then slipped inside for the go-ahead basket and stole the ball on the other end before passing it ahead to Savoy for the two-handed slam and 44-40 Lakewood lead.

Nick Revello scored to cut Lakewood's lead to 44-42 and Barnegat had to foul three times in order to get Lakewood into the bonus. After the second foul, Paturzo found a wide-open Tyleek behind the defense for the clinching layup with five seconds left. Tyleek then stole the inbound pass to effectively seal the win.

"I believe in those guys,' said Savoy, who averaged a double-double last season while carrying the Piners throughout his junior year. "Whether coach calls a play for me or for them, I believe in it because I know they can get it done just like I can get it done."

Brendan Revello led Barnegat with 12 points and junior Jaxon Baker added 11. Gerena poured in nine points and Nick Revello scored all eight of his points in the second half.

Lakewood's win Thursday night came with ailments throughout the roster. In addition to Savoy playing through a sprained ankle, the Piners lost senior starter De'Andre Harris to an ankle injury in the first minute of the game and senior starter Omari Barksdale in the first half to a shoulder injury.

Despite the slow start in December and the injuries more recently, the Piners find themselves with a chance to get back to the top of the Class B South standings after arguably the worst season in program history a year ago. After winning a share of 10 straight division championships from 2009 to 2018, Lakewood won just seven games a year ago.

"The only one last year returning with any experience was Ryan and Ryan wasn't 'the man' the year before," Holmes said. "He had to buy into that role, which is not really natural for him. I knew we would take our lumps last year but I also knew we would bounce back this year."

This year, the Piners are back in the running thanks to a more experienced roster, two impact freshmen, and a non-divisional schedule that has sharpened their edge. Lakewood played Georgia powerhouse TSF Academy at the Metro Classic in Toms River on Jan. 11 and lost Saturday in overtime to a Lenape squad that is competing for the No. 2 seed in South Jersey Group IV.

"It showed us what we could do against top talent," Savoy said. "It showed us who knew who to play basketball and who needed more experience. After the TSF game, we looked at each other and said, 'We can be pretty good.' Lenape was another tough loss, but it shows us what we're capable of. We can be even better."