MARLBORO - Losing a 6-foot-8-inch center who can step out and shoot is never ideal, but the loss of senior center Matt Dean has opened up an opportunity for a pair of Marlboro boys basketball players who showed what they could do Wednesday against St. John Vianney in the opening round of the Shore Conference Tournament.

Freshman Dylan Kaufman scored a team-high 19 points and junior P.J. Ringel added 13 points, six rebounds and three steals while anchoring the Mustangs defensive effort, as Marlboro - the No. 16 team in the SCT field - defeated the No. 17 Lancers 66-60. Marlboro will travel to play top-seeded Mater Dei Prep on Thursday.

Dean suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 28 against Middletown South, sapping the Mustangs lineup of its second-leading scorer and top rebounder. Instead of folding, Marlboro has responded with a 5-2 run during the seven games since, which includes a win over Freehold Township and two over St. John Vianney after Wednesday's win.

Marlboro senior P.J. Ringel drives during his team's SCT win over St. John Vianney (Photo by Matt Manley)
Marlboro senior P.J. Ringel drives during his team's SCT win over St. John Vianney (Photo by Matt Manley)

The Mustangs have adjusted with a guard-oriented approach that included a full-court press for the entiry of Wednesday's game. Ringel led that effort with his three steals and defense against Vianney senior Zach Howarth.

"This has become more of a P.J. Ringel team," Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas said. "When we had Matt in the lineup, P.J. kind of fit in and played in the system, but now that we're missing a 6-8 player, we've had to go to a more guard-heavy, athletic style and that plays to (Ringel's) strengths."

Howarth scored 23 of his 27 in the second half after Ringel and Co. locked him down in the first half.

"I played up on Zach because he likes to play relaxed," Ringel said. "Not to take anything away from him because he can score, but he was making soft passes so I took advantage of that."

Malrboro defeated St. John Vianney, 64-60, in the first meeting between the teams on Jan. 29 and despite the similar score, the Mustangs took a different approach.

"We decided last time we played them that we didn't want to help off (Matt) DeBrizzi because he's a really good shooter," Ringel said. "We made up for it by playing a step off Grant (Goode) so he couldn't drive. We were going to let him shoot it."

Kaufman, meanwhile, has emerged a 6-foot-5 low-block player in Dean's absence. Including the game in which Dean injured himself, Kaufman is averaging 10.6 points per game after scoring no more than eight in any game prior.

"I think people have to respect Dylan Kaufman now," Nausedas said. "We are completely surprised at what he is doing. He has more confidence than any freshman I've seen. He's strong, he's tough, he's powerful and he just finds a way to score."

Ringel and Kaufman were two of four players in double-figure scoring for Marlboro, with juniors Dan Weiss and Ryan LaRocca each adding 11 points for the Mustangs. LaRocca hit three first-half three-pointers while Weiss scored nine points in the second half.

Howarth knocked down a three-pointer from the left corner to tie the game at 50 with four minutes left, but senior Noah Kiczales came right back with a three-pointer from the right corner to give the Mustangs the lead for good.

Howarth hit another three to pull Vianney within three points of Marlboro, but Vianney's second technical foul of the quarter sent the Mustangs to the line and after four straight foul shots, they were back ahead by seven points with fewer than two minutes left.

Senior Marcque Ellington added 14 points and 14 rebounds for St. John Vianney.

"We were worried about Marcque because we just don't have anybody that size or with that athleticism," Nausedas said of the 6-foot-6 Ellington, a wide receiver on the Lancers football team. "He hurt us today, but we did a good job on some of their other guys and hit enough shots."

Marlboro will travel Thursday to try to solve a Mater Dei team that has won 17 games in a row and has not lost to a Shore Conference opponent.

"We're just going to go out with the mentality of playing hard," Nausedas said. "We can't worry about taking any one guy away individually so we're just going to have to play all five guys and just play hard. If we leave the gym knowing we played as hard as we could for four quarters, I'll be happy."

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