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TOMS RIVER -- Keith Adame stepped right onto the varsity boys basketball team at Jackson Memorial as a freshman and was a go-to scorer right away for a team that tried, in vain, to get back to competing for Shore Conference division titles and NJSIAA sectional championships.

Three years later, Adame is part of a guard trio that his third-year head coach, Randy Holmes, calls "one of the best, if not the best, in the Shore." It didn't happen overnight and Adame had to reconfigure his game to complement his two transfer teammates, but Jackson Memorial has made it to a place in which two off its starts can take over as scorers on the biggest stage.

Senior Samir Padilla went off in the second half and Adame continued his steady, exceptional play as the two seniors combined for 43 points Friday night at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in a 60-48 Jackson Memorial win over Freehold Township in the final of the Steve Gepp bracket in this year's WOBM Christmas Classic.

Padilla seized the tournament most valuable player award with his 24-point performance Friday night, which included 11 points in the third quarter and 17 in the second half. In three tournament games against Wall, Red Bank Catholic and Freehold Township, Padilla averaged an even 20 points per game.

Jackson Memorial, WOBM Christmas Classic Champs. (Photo: Matt Manley)
Jackson Memorial, WOBM Christmas Classic Champs. (Photo: Matt Manley)

Adame, meanwhile, poured in 19 points on Friday night and took home first-team all-tournament honors after averaging a bracket-best 20.7 points over the three games in the tournament.

"These guys put a lot of time in," Holmes said. "They stay after on the shooting machine getting extra shots and the work is definitely paying off. I'm proud of Keith: before Respect and Samir got here, he was the man. Everybody had to split their roles, and he embraced it. We're not unstoppable, but if those guys continue to share the ball and play like they are playing, we are going to be tough to beat."

Along with fellow senior Respect Tyleek, Padilla transferred from Lakewood to Jackson Memorial between his freshman and sophomore year, but both Padilla and Tyleek missed a majority of the truncated 2021 season while sitting out the required number of games due to the transfer.

"Those three guards are three of the best guards in the Shore, in no particular order," Holmes said. "I told Keith he is in a perfect position, because if you have Tyleek handling the ball and Samir on the other side, you might have the third-best player guarding you. He is a lead guard who is getting great matchups and learning to take advantage and that's why he is playing so well."

Last season, Padilla, Tyleek and Adame all adapted to playing with one another and by the end of the season, the chemistry was in place. Jackson Memorial reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the first time in eight years and also made it to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinal.

Jackson Memorial never trailed at any point in Friday night's game and Adame's 10-point first half was headline performance that helped the Jaguars to a 27-26 halftime lead.

While Adame stayed on pace in the second half, Padilla caught fire in the third quarter. The senior hit three consecutive three-point attempts and a deep runner for an 11-point quarter on 4-for-5 shooting.

Jackson Memorial took a 42-34 lead on Padilla's long floater, but Freehold Township knocked the deficit back to 42-39 by the end of the quarter and was down 44-41 after Adame and Patriots senior Jayden Holmes-Cotter traded baskets to start the fourth.

It was then that Padilla and Adame combined for an 8-0 run to stretch the Jackson Memorial lead to double-digits for the first time, 52-41. Padilla hit a three-pointer and a floater to get it started and Adame nailed a three to forced a Patriots timeout with 3:41 left. Freehold did not get close than nine points the rest of the way.

Holmes-Cotter led Freehold Township with 19 points and 20 rebounds to earn all-tournament honors, finishing with an average of 19.3 points and 14.3 rebounds in the three games vs. Donovan Catholic, Colts Neck and Jackson Memorial. Classmate Malachi Harris added 10 points in Friday's loss.

While Holmes-Cotter put up big scoring and rebounding figures, Jackson Memorial's pesky defense made it difficult for him to face the basket and score on his first opportunity. Seniors Joe Antenucci and junior Shaun Hubbard crowded him with double-teams, while the guards would often dig down and make it a triple-team as well.

"He is a bull," Holmes said of Holmes-Cotter. "We had a little early practice with it when we played against (6-foot-6 junior Tyler Burnham) from Red Bank Catholic. He is not as athletic as Jayden, but we basically said he is going to get his, but make sure he feels a body."

Jackson Memorial's defense was its usual disruptive self, forcing 17 Freehold Township turnovers while keeping the Patriots' supporting cast around Holmes-Cotter and Harris quiet.

The Jaguars also overcame foul trouble on senior Respect Tyleek throughout the game, with the senior picking up his fourth foul by the four-minute mark of the third quarter. Tyleek did not score in the game and was not as impactful as he had been in all-around performances against Wall and Red Bank Catholic, but the hot-shooting from the other two guards in Jackson Memorial's trio, as well as a spark off the bench from senior Caleb Frage (four points, two assists and two steals in the first quarter) compensated for Tyleek's limitations within the game.

Jackson Memorial had not won a WOBM Classic championship since 2011 and has not won a Shore Conference Class A South division championship since 2014. The Jaguars' pursuit of the division championship took a hit at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena last week in a Dec. 22 loss vs. Toms River North, but they showed no psychological after-effects in the same arena this week.

"You never like to lose, but I think that was a good loss for us against a good team," Holmes said. "They were looking at the press clippings to see where they were ranked and I just told them 'It's not where you start; it's where you finish.' We needed it and if we didn't have that lull that day, I don't think we would have played like we did tonight."

After handling Wall in the Toms River North High School gym, the Jaguars beat both Red Bank Catholic and Freehold Township -- both Shore Sports Network Top 10 teams in the latest set of rankings -- by double-figure margins.

"This was an early-season goal," Holmes said. "We know now that the rabbit has the gun now: last year, we were able to sneak up on some people, but now, we are the hunted. Teams are going to be coming after us, so we have to be ready, because we are going to get everybody's best game."

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