OAKHURST TWP. - Second-year Matawan coach John Giraldo describes Huskies freshman forward John Beukers as a player who does not play like a freshman, but even a player who plays beyond his years needs some acclimation time.

Tuesday against Ocean in the first round of NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournament, Beukers and Matawan showed just how far they have come since the beginning of the season.

The 6-5 freshman scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds Tuesday to help spark the Huskies - the No. 10 seed in the section - to a 58-54 win over the No. 7 Spartans. Matawan will next travel to play No. 2 seed Nottingham on Thursday in the sectional quarterfinals.

"We're a much different team than we were early in the season," Giraldo said. "I think everyone is different by this time of year, but for us, we had some young guys, some inexperienced guys playing for us who weren't really comfortable yet and now they are contributing. We're playing more guys than we were then and guys are confident in their roles. I know we were only a .500 team coming into tonight, but we feel like we're better than a .500 team and our guys were looking forward to showing that in this tournament."

Matawan junior Mike Dunne works off a screen by freshman John Beukers. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Matawan junior Mike Dunne works off a screen by freshman John Beukers. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Ocean defeated Matawan in the Husky Holiday Classic in December, a game in which Matawan rallied to force overtime but ran out of gas in the extra session. Tuesday, the Huskies grabbed a 12-10 lead late in the first quarter on a three-point play by Beukers and never gave it up.

Beukers did almost all of his scoring damage in the first and fourth quarters, putting up seven points in the first and closing out the win with eight in the fourth. He converted a layup as he was fouled to put Matawan ahead 54-46 with a minute to go and finished again on a feed from junior Mike Dunne with under 30 seconds to make it 58-51.

On top of pitching in on offense, Beukers also guarded Ocean leading scorer Andrew Seager, who finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting from the field.

"He's really tough to guard," Beukers said of the 6-5 Seager. "He's got some really good moves down low, but we were able to make him shoot more from the outside and we did a good job on their other shooters."

Dunne was also instrumental in Matawan's offensive attack. The 6-3 junior took only six shots in the game, but still scored 15 points to go with his six rebounds and seven assists. Dunne also helped Matawan close the game out by shooting 8-for-10 from the free-throw line for the game and 7-for-8 in the fourth quarter.

"They collapsed every time I drove," Dunne said. "I'm never a selfish player, so I just want to do what it takes to make the team win. If it's passing, then I'm passing."

"I wouldn't have scored without this guy," Beukers said, referring to Dunne.

Since Dunne's older brother, Jason, graduated after the 2014-15 season, Matawan has lost its leading scorer each of the past two seasons, with Mergim Gjyriqi graduating last year. The younger Dunne is beginning to settle into the leadership role that Jason established as a junior, when he helped lead Matawan to its first sectional championship in nearly a half-century.

"I ask a lot out of Mike," Giraldo said. "He's got to be our best scorer, our best rebounder and our best passer. He's handled it really well and the nice thing is, other guys around him have developed over the course of the season and he has understood that in order for us to be as good as we want to be, he's got to get those guys involved and get their confidence up."

Ocean drew within three points of Matawan at 34-31 midway through the third quarter thanks to a 13-4 run coming out of the halftime locker room. Matawan, however, responded with seven straight points behind junior Zaire Jackson, who scored on two drives to the basket and set up a three-pointer by Ramon Estrada with a drive-and-kick.

The Spartans later cut the deficit to 54-49 on a three-pointer by freshman Jack Miller with 35 seconds left, but Dunne canned a pair of free throws and found Beukers for a layup after Seager scored to briefly trim the Matawan lead to 56-51.

Senior Chris Vivian hit a three-pointer and Ocean forced a turnover with 1.5 seconds left. With the Spartans out of timeouts, however, Matawan backed off on defense, which gave Ocean no chance to score and get the ball back.

Matawan will now try to turn a first-round road win into a deep run when the Huskies take on a Nottingham team that just set the school record for wins in a season with 21. Matawan started the year 2-6 and rallied to win five straight and nine out of 11, including a one-point loss to a 20-win Rumson-Fair Haven team.

The Huskies went 2-5 in the seven games leading up to the tournament, but among those losses was a six-point loss to Sayreville and a one-point loss to Point Pleasant Beach - which was Matawan's final tune-up game.

"After that 2-6 start, we went on that win streak and it was like everybody figured out their role," Dunne said. "We had some close losses to teams like Point Beach and Sayreville, but we felt like we had a chance to win those games. Now, we know what we're doing, everybody is buying in and we feel like we can compete with whoever we play against."


Box Score

Matawan 58, Ocean 54

Matawan (14-13)1515121658
Ocean (16-10)108142254

Matawan (58): Zaire Jackson 2 1-2 5, Patrick Hennessy 2 0-0 4, John Beukers 8 1-2 17, Reggie Tawiah 3 2-5 8, Mike Dunne 3 8-10 15, Ramon Estrada 2 1-2 7, Joe Beukers 1 0-0 2, Tyrese Bryant 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 13-21 58

Three-pointers: Dunne, Estrada 2

Ocean (54): Jack Miller 3 2-3 10, David Yatcilla 1 0-0 2, Andrew Seager 7 5-9 21, Tim McMahon 2 1-2 5, Darius Brown 3 0-0 7, Luke Yates 1 0-0 3, Chris Vivian 2 0-0 6, Brian Lausten 0 0-0 0, Santieno Harding 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 8-14 54

Three-pointers: Miller 2, Seager 2, Brown, Yates, Vivian 2


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