OCEAN TWP. - The Ocean Township boys basketball team played a game Monday night against Lakewood in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournament that was nearly identical to its win over the Piners when the two teams met two weeks earlier in the Shore Conference Tournament first round.

In the second round of this tournament, however, the Spartans would like to write a different ending than the one they authored in the SCT round-of-16.

For the second time in two weeks, Ocean - the No. 7 seed in the Central Jersey Group III bracket - beat Lakewood in a first-round tournament game, this time by a score of 42-37 to earn a sectional quarterfinal trip to play No. 2 Nottingham.

Ocean senior Andrew Seager. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Ocean senior Andrew Seager. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We knew they didn't play their best against us and we didn't play our best against them the first time we played," Ocean senior Andrew Seager said. "We expected them to come out hard and we knew we just had to be ready to battle them for four quarters."

On Feb. 13, Ocean beat Lakewood, 42-38, on the road to earn a shot at the No. 2 seed in the SCT, which was tournament runner-up Mater Dei Prep. The Spartans led Mater Dei by seven points with six minutes to go and had a lead with under three to play before falling, 51-47.

On Monday, Lakewood engaged the home team in another defensive battle and took a 37-33 lead with a little more than five minutes left. From that point on, Ocean held the Piners scoreless over the final five minutes of regulation to force overtime and four more minutes during the extra sessions to deliver nine minutes of shutout defense to bring home the win.

"Defensively, man, they are suffocating," Ocean coach John Terlecsky said of Lakewood. "We couldn't run the stuff that we wanted to run, they sped us up and we had a little trouble at certain times. I knew that (Kevin) Dent was going to be an issue scoring the ball and I thought that stopping him was going to be foremost in our minds."

Seager was the central figure of Ocean's win, pouring in a game-high 15 points and collecting 17 rebounds, four steals and three blocks as well. The 6-foot-7 senior hit the game-tying free throws with 39.1 seconds left in regulation to effectively send the game into overtime and capped the win with a two-handed dunk that put Ocean ahead, 42-37, in the final minute of overtime.

Sophomore Jack Miller scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half, but his four points after halftime were all crucial. He hit a quick-release three-pointer from 25 feet to just beat the third quarter buzzer and pull the Spartans within 32-31 heading into the fourth. He also he the go-ahead free throw in overtime to give his team the lead for good, 38-37.

Seager and Miller have carried the scoring load for Ocean all year, but the Spartans once again got some timely plays from their supporting cast. Senior Brian Laustsen blocked a shot on the defense end, which led to a drive to the basket by junior Luke Yates to cut the Lakewood lead to 37-35 with 3:35 left in regulation.

Laustsen also came up with a huge putback off a miss by Miller to stretch Ocean's lead to 40-37 with 1:21 to go in the overtime.

"We've set up this team so that its' Seager and Miller doing most of the scoring and rightfully so," Terlecsky said. "They draw a lot of attention and they are both very, very good players. But our other guys have bought into their roles. I think they know they are not just standing there - they are looking to set screens, slip and be ready for the ball. Even though two guys are taking the bulk of the shots, they have to make all of the little plays defensively and do all of those unheralded things to win games."

Lakewood had to play the final possession of regulation and the duration of overtime without leading scorer Kevin Dent, who cramped up in the final seconds of the fourth and could not get loose in time to return.

Dent and sophomore teammate Ryan Savoy led Lakewood with 11 points apiece, with Savoy also contributing nine rebounds and four blocks.

Monday's win for Ocean serves as redemption for a first-round loss at home to Matawan in last year's Central Jersey Group III bracket and it will also give the Spartans a chance to do what the 2015-16 team could not quite do. Two years ago, Ocean advanced to the quarterfinals in CJ III and held a lead in the final minute against top-seeded Ewing, only to lose on a last-second shot.

Seager was a sophomore on that team and played only sparingly, but he and his teammates who were in the gym and on that bus that night remember it well. Between that near upset and the close call at Mater Dei in the SCT, the Spartans are hungry to finish the job on Wednesday.

"I remember that game like it was yesterday," Seager said. "We just have to stay focused and hopefully we can get that win against Nottingham."

"We had a lead with two minutes left against No. 2 in the Shore," Terlecsky said of the Mater Dei loss. "I think that gives us a ton of confidence. We're definitely going on the bus to win that game, there's no doubt. We feel good about our chances that after that Mater Dei game, if we could survive (Lakewood), we could have a chance to pull off the big upset."


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