LAKEWOOD - For the last five years or so, Lakewood was the team the rest of the boys basketball teams in the Shore Conference Class B South circled on their calendar, but for the first time in a long time, the Piners found a division foe worthy of circling on their own calendar.

After arriving back at the school following a road loss to Manchester, a loss at the buzzer that ended a 45-game unbeaten streak in divisional play, the players made sure to mark the second meeting with the Hawks on the schedule.

"I think we've learned from all four of our losses this year, especially that one," Lakewood coach Randy Holmes said. "You could see in their faces that that one hurt. As a matter of fact, we have a calendar with our schedule on it in the locker room and as soon as we got off the bus and into the school, a bunch of the guys went in and circled today's date. So I really didn't have to say much to make sure they were ready."

A wait that lasted 23 days ended Friday when the two teams met again, and with the Class B South title on the line, Lakewood topped Manchester 71-65 to clinch an outright division title for a sixth straight season.

Amir Tyler hands the ball to Zyheir Jnoes (24) during Lakewood's win over L.J. Robinson (24, left) and Manchester. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Amir Tyler hands the ball to Zyheir Jnoes (24) during Lakewood's win over L.J. Robinson (24, left) and Manchester. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Friday's win avenged a 65-64 loss at Manchester that ended on a putback by Israel Almestica as time expired. That Hawks win ended a Lakewood divisional winning streak that extended back to January of 2013 and was also the first time Manchester beat Lakewood since December of 2009.

In addition to six straight outright division titles - which include Class C Central championships in 2010-11 and 2011-12 - Lakewood also won B South public division co-championships in both 2008-09 and 2009-10, giving them at least a share of a division title in eight of Holmes' 10 seasons at the helm.

"This is my senior year and it bothered me that we lost to Manchester, so I definitely was about to let us lose to the same team twice," senior Amir Tyler, a Temple football recruit, said. "This is eight straight division titles now and it was important for me to go out on a high note and keeping with the tradition. I'm going on to play football next year, but I wanted to get this for coach Holmes and the program."

Tyler led Lakewood's redemption game with 24 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. The four-year varsity letter-winner scored 14 of his points in the first have and scored on a drive to the basket during a key stretch of the fourth quarter during which the Piners put Manchester away.

Senior Sean Barksdale added 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, including 13 points during the second half. Manchester had cut Lakewood's lead - which climbed to 13 at one point in the third quarter - to two on a three by senior Shavar Reynolds with 4:06 left and Barksdale responded out of a Lakewood timeout by burying a straightaway three-pointer of his own.

"It wasn't really anything that we planned in the huddle," Barksdale said of his three-pointer. "Coach trusts me to make open shots and I saw I had a look and I didn't want to hesitate."

"Those two seniors, Amir and Sean, they know I trust them to take shots," Holmes concurred. "The plan was actually for Sean to go to the basket there. We had been stressing to our guys that we wanted to attack them with the dribble and it was working. I think Sean saw them sag off him and he got a shot he liked."

Tyler followed with a driving layup and Barksdale scored on a follow to make it 62-55. Manchester later pulled back within 62-59 on a three-pointer by junior L.J. Robinson.

With Manchester on its heels, Lakewood put the game away thanks to scoring lift from an unexpected source. Sophomore Zyheir Jones - who did not score his first point until the final 1:30 of the game - scored his first four points of the game in one trip down the floor to put the Piners ahead, 66-59. Jones drove to the basket for a score as he was fouled and after an offensive rebound on the missed free throw, he again drove to the basket for two.

Jones scored one more time as he was fouled with 46.4 seconds left and finished with six points.

"He gets in these games and these big environments, I think he gets a little scared at first," Tyler said of Jones. "I remember when I was a sophomore, I had a couple of games like that. But once he gets in his groove, there's no stopping him. He's just so swift. He can get to the rim and he can finish with either hand."

Lakewood also pulled out Friday's game thanks to a dominant performance on the glass. The Piners owned a 22-6 advantage on the offensive glass. In addition to Barksdale's big game on the boards, senior Ryzson Barnes also chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds, four of which were offensive boards.

After turning Manchester over just six times in the first meeting, Lakewood also got back to forcing mistakes on offense by hounding the Hawks into 13 turnovers.

In its win over Lakewood back on Jan. 19, Manchester rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit and another double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. The Hawks nearly did it again Friday, chipping a 44-31 deficit early in the third quarter down to 55-53 by the four-minute mark of the fourth.

Reynolds helped lead the comeback by knocking down a 28-foot three-pointer to cap the third quarter and later drilled the three that pulled the Hawks within two before Barksdale's three on the other end swung the game back in favor of Lakewood. Reynolds also added eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks.

Junior L.J. Robinson added 21 points for Manchester, including his team's first 10 points of the game. Senior Jordan Torney also chipped in 10 points in defeat.

"We knew coming in that we had to stop their main guys because they are pretty much their whole offense," Barksdale said. "Coach (Holmes) just told us we needed to do a better job defending the three-point line because we started sleeping on them a little bit from out there and they got back in the game."

Friday's win puts Lakewood in position to likely grab one of the top eight seeds in the Shore Conference Tournament, which will be seeded on Sunday and begin next week. A top eight seed is noteworthy because those eight teams are guaranteed to avoid road games, as the tournament moves to neutral sites from the quarterfinals on.

Since the 2011 tournament, Lakewood has been no worse than a No. 3 seed but will likely fall short of that seed in this year's tournament. The Piners won the tournament in 2013, which, coincidentally, was also the last season in which they lost a division game prior to this one.

"It's going to be good going in as kind of the underdog," Tyler said. "Teams might think we're going to come in scared or intimidated or whatever and hopefully we'll take it to them and show people we're still Lakewood.

"We've got to (win). I want to get Shore Conference. This is my last year and I want to win it. Even though I'm playing football, I want to do this for my coach, for Sean and for our town."

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