MANCHESTER TWP. - Four separate times during its Shore Conference Class B South home showdown with Lakewood on Tuesday, the Manchester boys basketball team looked like it would fall victim to an all-too familiar script against the them that the Hawks - and every other team in Lakewood's division for that matte - have been trying to catch up to over the last five years.

It took all of 3.2 seconds to put the finishing touches on a new, long-awaited happy ending for a group of Manchester seniors who were tired of the same old story against their divisional nemesis.

Senior forward Israel Almestica scored on a putback just before time expired to give the Hawks a 65-64 win over Lakewood - the No. 5 team in the Shore Sports Network - and snap the Piners' 45-game winning streak against Class B South opponents that dates back to Jan. 2013.

The win also marks the first time Manchester has defeated Lakewood since opening night of the 2009-10 season.

"The first three years I've been here, they've been blowing us out," Hawks senior guard Shavar Reynolds said. "It's my senior year and I didn't want to leave here without beating them at least once. To finally get one feels great."

Reynolds scored 19 points along with six rebounds and six assists, while junior L.J. Robinson scored a game-high 26 points to lead the Hawks. Senior Jordan Torney scored all 15 of his points in the second half and also added seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Almestica finished with five points to round out the Manchester scoring.

Reynolds, Almestica and Torney are familiar with Lakewood's dominance in the division as four-year varsity letterwinners. Almestica and Torney have been starters since they were freshmen and Reynolds joined them in the starting lineup as a sophomore. Since beating Lakewood in Dec. 2009, Manchester had not come within 12 points of beating Lakewood in the next seven meetings between the teams and the average margin of victory for the Piners in those seven games was 20.4.

"The seniors did a great job tonight," Manchester coach Ryan Ramsay said. "L.J. did a great job, knocking down some big shots in the second half. Israel battled on the boards and blocked some shots.

"They (Lakewood) are fantastic. They've been running the show for years now and in the Shore Conference they are a top-five team every year. Hopefully this can be a springboard for us."

Senior Jordan Torney had 15 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals Tuesday against Lakewood. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Senior Jordan Torney had 15 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals Tuesday against Lakewood. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Lakewood appeared poised to defeat Manchester once again on Tuesday after Piners junior Adiam Palmer drew a foul going to the basket with eight seconds left and calmly buried both free throws to give his team a 64-63 lead.

Reynolds, however, earned his own trip to the free-throw line, drawing the fifth foul on Lakewood senior Amir Tyler out at the three-point line. The foul gave Reynolds a 1-and-1 opportunity with 3.2 seconds left to tie the game with a make or win it with two.

On the front end of the attempt, Reynolds's shot rimmed out, but Almestic grabbed the offensive rebound, gathered himself, and converted an uncontested, game-winning layup just before the final buzzer sounded.

"I was thinking way too much going up to the line," Reynolds said. "So much was running through my head and I tried to clear my mind and (the shot) just rimmed out. Luckily Israel bailed me out. I saw him get the rebound and when the shot went in and the game was over, I just exhaled. I was like, 'Finally.'"

The final two minutes saw the two teams go back-and-forth until the Almestica putback ultimately decided the game. Sophomore Zyheir Jones drove the lane for a layup to give the Piners a 60-58 lead, but Reynolds responded with an improbable left-handed scoop shot to re-tie the game.

Palmer answered right back for Lakewood with a minute left, converting a basket as he was fouled. After Palmer missed the free throw, Lakewood senior Sean Barksdale blocked his fifth shot of the game on the other end, but Reynolds tipped the loose ball to Torney on the right wing. The senior pumped once and nailed an open three to give Manchester a 63-62 lead with 36 seconds left.

"The crowd got crazy and we just got into it," Torney said. "It's all about intensity with our team and we played with that intensity in the second half. I had to be more aggressive, too."

The Hawks actually earned a stop on the defensive end following Torney's three, but Robinson missed the front end of a 1-and-1, the first of two such misses by the Hawks in the final 20 seconds. Lakewood also shot just 3-for-7 from the line in the final four minutes.

"The last two minutes were crazy," Robinson said. "The floor was shaking. You couldn't even hear anything."

That Reynolds even had a chance to lift his team over Lakewood in the waning seconds was a new twist to a one-sided rivalry that has seen Manchester compete within the division but never seriously challenge Lakewood for a B South title.

"We went into halftime feeling pretty bad about the way we played," Reynolds said. "Coach (Ramsay) was yelling at us, telling us we needed to pick it up. The bottom line: we had to fight back. Enough is enough. These guys have beaten us, pushed us around every year and we were tired of laying down."

Three times prior to Palmer's free throws, the Piners looked poised to bury the Hawks, just as they had in the seven prior meetings. The game began with Lakewood jumping out to a 10-1 lead while Manchester missed its first eight field goal attempts.

The Hawks regrouped and cut the Lakewood lead to 13-11 by the end of the first quarter, but Lakewood quickly responded with a 15-4 run. Once the final buzzer of the first half sounded, Lakewood led Manchester 31-20.

"The guy I thought played great tonight for us was (junior) Alex Lunn," Ramsay said. "He played with so much energy on both ends, doing to little things. That was basically our halftime adjustment: everybody play the second half like (Lunn) played the first half and we'll have a shot."

"We had to believe that we could win," Torney said. "It was that simple. Usually, we take too long start getting aggressive and it happened to us today. We just had to get aggressive and keep believing."

Once again, the Hawks bounced back and began the third quarter on an 18-3 run to storm ahead for the first time, 38-34. Robinson led the flurry with 10 of his 16 second-half points.

While Manchester withstood two early threats by Lakewood to put the game away, the third Piners surge nearly put the game out of reach. Lakewood responded to Manchester's 18-3 run with a 12-0 run of its own before Almestica scored off a pass from Torney to cap the scoring in the third and send the game to the fourth with Lakewood in front, 46-40.

Lakewood built its lead to 53-42 with a little more than six minutes to go in the game and with his last chance to beat Lakewood in his home gym slipping away, Reynolds answered the bell. The senior knocked down a three and converted a three-point play on consecutive possessions to trim the Piners lead to 53-48 and after the two teams each hit one free throw, Reynolds hit another three to pull Manchester within 54-52.

Lakewood senior Ryzson Barnes hit a short jumpshot to push the Lakewood lead back to four before Reynolds earned a trip to the line and hit two free throws to pull Manchester back within two, 56-54. Barnes scored again on the break after Barksdale blocked consecutive Manchester shots to preserve the two-point lead and ultimately turn it back into a four-point advantage, 58-54.

After a defensive stop and with 2:30 left, the Piners had a chance to run clock and put the game out of reach, but Tyler took a quick shot and Robinson came right back with a driving layup as he was fouled to pull the Hawks back within two with 2:19 left. Robinson missed the foul shot, but Torney stole the ball in the backcourt and found Robinson for the game-tying floater to set up the back-and-forth final two minutes.

The Hawks survived a first half in which Robinson and Reynolds combined for 19 of the team's 20 points and Torney went scoreless with minimal impact on both ends. Manchester stayed in the game by protecting the ball against a Lakewood defense that has been known over the years to turn opponents over. Manchester committed just six turnovers in the game and forced the Piners into 12 giveaways. Of Torney's five steals, three came in the fourth quarter.

"I have complete faith in Jordan," Ramsay said. "He's a four-year starter and a senior leader and I never have to worry about him showing up. If he has a quiet half, he's going to come out pretty determined for the second half and that's what he did tonight."

The Hawks also shook off their slow shooting start to hit 11 three-pointers, shooting 11-for-19 from three-point range (58 percent) - all of which was accounted for by Robinson, Reynolds and Torney.

Manchester had no answer for Barksdale in the first half, when the Lakewood junior scored 17 of his team-high 25 points. Barksdale knocked down five three-pointers, threw down a one-handed putback dunk late in the third to stretch the Lakewood lead to six and finished with 11 rebounds, three assists and five blocks to boot.

While Barksdale overmatched Manchester at times, Reynolds limited Tyler to 11 points on 4-for-15 shooting, including one point on 0-for-4 shooting in the fourth quarter. Tyler also handed out four assists.

"With those two kids they have, you just hope you can contain one of them," Ramsay said. "It's easier said than done and Barksdale really hurt us tonight, but fortunately we were able to slow down Amir Tyler just enough to give us a chance. They have a few guys who can attack and shoot the ball, so even when you think you've got everything covered, they have ways to beat you."

Manchester's win creates a three-way tie atop the Class B South standings at the halfway point of the division schedule. Lakewood, Manchester and Donovan Catholic are all 6-1 in the division with seven games left for each. Lakewood defeated Donovan Catholic and Donovan Catholic defeated Lakewood to contribute to the three-way stalemate. Both the Griffins and the Hawks will try to end Lakewood's run of five consecutive outright division titles and eight straight seasons with at least a share of a division title.

"Now it's a race," Reynolds said. "If we can win a game like this, I think we can win the division."


Box Score

Manchester 65, Lakewood 64

Lakewood (8-3, 6-1)1318151864
Manchester (9-2, 6-1)119202565


Lakewood (64): Honore Richardson 0 0-0 0, Zyheir Jones 3 0-0 6, Adiam Palmer 3 2-3 9, Sean Barksdale 9 2-3 25, Amir Tyler 4 1-4 11, Ryzson Barnes 4 0-0 8, Kaseam Wilson 2 0-0 5. Totals: 25 5-10 64

Three-pointers: Palmer, Barksdale 5, Tyler 2, Wilson

Fouled Out: Tyler

Manchester (65): Shavar Reynolds 6 4-8 19, Jordan Torney 5 1-4 15, Israel Almestica 2 1-2 5, Alex Lunn 0 0-0 0, L.J. Robinson 11 0-2 26, Khari Jenkins 0 0-0 0, Ryan Hartnett 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 6-16 65

Three-pointers: Reynolds 3, Torney 4, Robinson 4

More From Shore Sports Network