POINT PLEASANT BORO - The Point Pleasant Boro boys basketball team beat Lakewood at home as recently as last season, so what the Panthers did in their season-opener on Saturday against the Piners is not out of the norm.

There is something nice, however, about starting the year in first place in the Shore Conference Class B South, especially when Point Boro has been looking up at Lakewood in the standings for each of the past seven years.

Point Boro jumped out to an early advantage over the seven-time defending division champion Piners by beating its rival, 42-35, Saturday in a game that was originally scheduled for Friday night but postponed due to snow.

Point Boro senior John Duda. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Point Boro senior John Duda. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The race for the Class B South race is only getting started and the field appears as though it could be very crowded, with Pinelands beating expected contender Barnegat and Jackson Liberty hanging tough with another in Donovan Catholic. Saturday's win, however, gives Point Boro an early edge that no team has enjoyed over Lakewood since the Piners won the first of their seven straight outright division titles in 2010-2011.

"Any league game - high school, college, whatever - is always tough," Point Boro coach Kevin Hynes said. "No matter what the standings say, you could be in for a fight on any given night and in a league like (B South), where you've got four teams that could wind up in any order one-through-four, you know every game is going to matter. It's early, and right now this win doesn't mean much, but at the same time, every game we play is going to means something playing in a league like this."

Seniors John Chipak and John Duda led Saturday's effort by the Panthers, with each scoring 11 points to the scoring effort. Chipak also hauled in 15 rebounds and handed out three assists, while Duda grabbed six boards and dished out four assists.

"It's definitely a good change for us to beat Lakewood the first time around and get off to a good start," Duda said. "Luckily, we were at home today and I think that helped. Going into this game, we were all excited and hopefully getting a big win like this will give us a little momentum."

Chipak came on during in the middle of his junior season and opened his senior year with a career performance on the glass while also sparking the offense with all 11 of his points over the first three quarters - which accounted for a third of Point Boro's total through three quarters.

"John wasn't really with us the summer after his sophomore year, so its seemed like part of his junior year was just getting the feel for things again," Hynes said of the 6-1 senior forward. "He's a guy who understands the importance of being physical, rebounding the ball, using the pass. From that aspect of it, he's stepped up big time."

Late in the third quarter, neither team led by more than four points, but Point Boro finished the quarter on a 6-0 run to take a 33-26 lead into the final eight minutes. Lakewood closed the gap to 35-32 early in the quarter, but the Piners went more than four minutes without a field goal.

Point Boro did not put Lakewood away during the Piners' drought, cementing the win on the defensive end more than on offense. Senior guard Connor Strickland hit a pull-up jumper with under two minutes left that made it 41-35 that effectively put the game out of reach. Strickland finished with nine points.

"I have been coaching against (Lakewood coach) Randy (Holmes) for a long time now - there are no secrets," said Hynes, who has served his post for 23 seasons while Holmes has been in his for 12. "He gets his guys to play a certain way, we do what we do here, and then it's go out and battle each other for four quarters and see who wants it more. We were lucky they missed some shots today, but our guys battled and they earned it."

Senior Jyheir Jones led Lakewood with a game-high 16 points while also collecting seven rebounds and three steals. Senior Kevin Dent added nine points and sophomore Ryan Savoy had six rebounds and five blocked shots.

Facing Point Boro's 2-3 for just about the entire game, Lakewood shot just 15-for-55 (27 percent) and outside of a few brief bursts, did not harm the Panthers on the offensive glass.

"They missed some shots that they are probably used to making in that fourth quarter," Duda said. "We know the next time we play, they are going to make a few more of those at their place, but as long as we can improve and keep putting in the hard work on both ends, we'll be a better team by then too."


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