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MIDDLETOWN - Saturday's Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase started much like the season did for the Neptune boys basketball team: about as poorly as is imaginable.

Under sixth-year coach Joe Fagan, however, the Scarlet Fliers have typically stayed the course and ended up a contender in the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournament by end the season and if there is one thing Neptune did on Saturday afternoon against Rumson-Fair Haven, it was stay the course all the way to the final buzzer.

After trailing by 15 after one quarter of play, Neptune stormed back during the third quarter and beat Rumson-Fair Haven, 56-55, on a pair of free throws by senior Azmere Wilson with 0.4 seconds left.

PHOTO GALLERY: Neptune vs. Rumson by Paula Lopez

Neptune senior Azmere Wilson. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"We weren't executing the way we needed to execute in the first half and in the second half, it was as simple as starting to make simple basketball plays," Fagan said. "We haven't executed for 32 minutes the way I'd like but one thing I'll say about this group is they are going to give you an effort and they're not going to quit."

Rumson grabbed a 55-54 lead when senior Jack Carroll made one of two free throws with 31 seconds left. Neptune chewed up most of the remaining clock and sophomore Malik Fields found a cutting Wilson with the final seconds ticking away. Wilson could not get a shot off before the final buzzer but a foul was called as time appeared to expire.

The officials ruled the foul came with 0.4 seconds left and after a discussion and a timeout kept Wilson waiting, the senior drained the tying free throw. After another Rumson timeout, Wilson went back to the line and gave Neptune the lead with the second free throw. Fields then broke up the ensuing Rumson pass down the middle of the floor to end the game.

"I'm not going to lie, I was nervous," Wilson said. "I was confident I would make them but it still gets you nervous waiting around to shoot. Once I made the first one, though, I was good."

Rumson led, 26-11, after the first quarter thanks to a rousing performance by the second of its two lines. The Bulldogs have opened the season by using complete lineup shifts, with five bench players replacing the five starters for stretches of two-to-three minutes and the second string shined during the first quarter on Saturday, outscoring Neptune, 17-3, during a 2:45 stretch of clock.

"They were pressing us and we weren't recognizing the two-on-ones and three-on-twos that they were giving us," Fagan said. "Anytime a team is running double-teams at you, there are mismatches and advantages, but you've got to find them and in the second half, we started picking them out and making them pay a little bit more for them."

That plus-14 stretch was the separator in the first half, which ended with Neptune trailing, 37-24, heading into the locker room. In the third quarter, however, the Scarlet Fliers shut down the Bulldogs and outscored them, 19-3, to take a 43-40 lead heading to the fourth.

Wilson led the charge in the third by scoring 10 of his 14 points, including a personal 7-0 run that was part of a bigger 12-0 run that flipped a 40-31 deficit into a 43-40 lead.

Rumson recovered and eventually hit Neptune with a 10-2 run that gave the Bulldogs a 54-49 lead. Wilson knocked down a pair of free throws to cut the deficit back to three and junior Sam Fagan buried a three from the left wing to tie the game at 54-54 with 1:16 left, setting up the final sequence.

Senior Saadiq Armstead led Neptune with 16 points before fouling out while Fields added 13 points in the win.

Sophomore Geoff Schroeder scored 10 points to lead Rumson's balanced attack, which saw 11 players get time, nine of them score and the bench produce 30 points. Carroll, senior Shane Shovelin and senior Hunter Reid all added eight points apiece, with Shovelin scoring all eight of his in the first quarter.

Neptune opened the season by scoring five points in the first half of a 52-39 loss at Matawan, then got trounced by Elizabeth - the state's top-ranked public-school team. The Scarlet Fliers have since responded with a 5-2 run that includes down-to-the-wire losses vs. defending Central Jersey Group II runner-up Lincoln of Jersey City and defending Central Group III champion Wall.

"We just keep working hard," Wilson said. "Coach is on us to just keep working at practice and we'll keep getting better."