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HOLMDEL - Holmdel boys basketball coach Sean Devaney thought prior to the season that 6-foot-5 senior Ryan Bradley would be the key to the Hornets' success in 2021. A gifted athlete who showed flashes of his ability as a sophomore on a senior-loaded team in 2020, Bradley would need to deliver on a more regular basis as one of the few experienced players back for the No. 7 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.

So far, Bradley has indeed delivered and Monday night was his most resounding statement yet.

With returning All-Shore senior forward Alex Baker battling through an off-night, Bradley stepped up in a big way, scoring 23 points to go with six rebounds, five assists and a pair of blocked shots as the Hornets rallied from a slight halftime deficit to beat St. John Vianney on the road, 61-48.

"Ryan Bradley has been a real force on both offensively and defensively and rebounding," Devaney said. "That continued tonight. Every game is different in terms of what you need, who steps up, who doesn't play as well and tonight we had a couple of other guys step up. We probably didn't get Alex's best tonight so I'm glad we were still able to win against a good team."

"Last year I was more of an inside player," Bradley said. "This year, with everyone collapsing around Baker, it has given me a lot more opportunities to take that as an advantage and attack."

Senior Kyle Polivka also came through with 20 points and three assists for Holmdel, which had to absorb a 15-0 St. John Vianney run in the first half, fight back from a three-point halftime deficit and overcome Baker scoring only 10 points - 10 below his season average entering the game.

Holmdel struck for a 10-1 run to take a 14-5 lead, but the host Lancers countered with 15 straight points to go up 20-14. Bradley then scored six of Holmdel's final eight points of the half to help cut the deficit to 25-22, then Baker scored the first two baskets of the second half to give Holmdel back the lead.

"At halftime, I said to Alex privately that he's got to pick it up," Bradley said. "I didn't try to come across as mean, but I wanted him to know, he played horrible in the first half. I didn't want to be mean, but we need him. He had to pick it up and everyone had to pick it up and in the second half, I think you saw everybody had their A-game and was attacking."

"We started to relax a little bit in the second half," Devaney said. "Once we started missing some layups and foul shots, we started tensing up a bit. I thought once we started making a few shots, we figured things out. It's the old question, 'What comes first: do you get stops and then start making shots or do you make shots and start getting stops?'"

A layup by Polivka gave Holmdel the lead for good at 33-32 and after Vianney cut its deficit to 45-44 on a three-point play by junior Nate Williams, Holmdel scored 10 unanswered points and closed the game with an 18-4 run.

Williams finished with 15 points, five rebounds, two assists and four steals while freshman Dylan Seay led the Lancers with 21 points and eight rebounds.

Holmdel will try to complete the sweep against St. John Vianney as the Hornets pursue a spot in the final eight of the Shore Conference for the third straight year. Holmdel was in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals two years ago and reached the SCT semifinals last year. This season is set to conclude with pod tournaments, with the top eight teams in the Shore forming a de factor championship pod.

"Every game this year means something to us because we want to get to that final eight and go from there and see how far we can go," Bradley said.

With only two regulars back from last year, Holmdel hopes to gel and improve quickly, even without a lot of practice time due to a confluence of bad weather and a tight schedule due to the COVID-shortened season.

"He have to get more consistent," Devaney said. "The routine is so different this year. You're used to playing a game, getting back in the gym to practice, making corrections and expecting to get a little better each day. Now, everybody is trying to figure out how to sandwich in a practice because all anyone wants to do is schedule games. Every day is a grind; you just try to do the best you can."

 

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