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Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16

Thursday, Feb. 17

No. 15 Central at No. 2 Marlboro, 4 p.m.

Central played what might have been its best quarter of the season to open up the tournament on Tuesday night, outscoring Point Boro 20-2 in the first quarter. Sophomore Miles Chevalier looked like his normal self after spending last week working his way back into form following a stretch with a foot injury. Throw in a dominant performance by Justin Soranno and the Golden Eagles were clicking on every level.

They will have to carry that over to Thursday during their trip to Marlboro, where the Mustangs will challenge Central’s defense in ways that Point Boro – and pretty much every team Central has played this season – could not. Soranno could find himself with a chance to put up some numbers again against a Marlboro team without a true big man, although Jay Ratner has plenty of experience defending quality high-school big men. If Ratner can slow down Soranno, Marlboro will run away with this one, but if Soranno has a big performance, the Golden Eagles could hang around. With as dangerous as Marlboro’s starting five it, though, the Mustangs look primed to roll on.

The Pick: Marlboro, 77-63

No. 11 Raritan at No. 6 CBA, 5 p.m.

Two years ago, these two teams were supposed to meet in the first round of the SCT, but CBA had to withdraw from the tournament and forfeit the game due to scheduling one too many games prior to the SCT. Now fully focused on this tournament, CBA ended its scoring slump in a big way Tuesday by putting up 86 points in a 50-plus-point win over Point Beach. Much is made of how teams are playing heading into a tournament, but even more important than how a team is playing heading into a tournament is how it actually plays in the tournament. Although CBA has struggled over the last three weeks or so, the Colts have a lot of big-game experience this season and are capable of turning things around over the next four days.

On the other side, Raritan already proved it can beat a high-profile opponent when the Rockets shocked Ranney at the buzzer a couple of Saturdays ago. The Rockets have quality seniors led by Justin Rivera and a versatile supporting cast that includes shooters and hard-working defenders and rebounders – not unlike CBA with its senior leader in Pat Lautato surrounded by a talented young group around him. Raritan is in the class of teams like Manalapan, Howell and Middletown South – all of which beat CBA over the last three weeks – so the Rockets have a legitimate shot. At home, though, CBA will be tough and expect the Colts to have learned some lessons from its recent slump.

The Pick: CBA, 57-48

No. 9 Brick Memorial at No. 8 Manchester, 5 p.m.

The 8-vs.-9 game is a showdown between two teams that were impressive in their Tuesday victories – part of a pretty strong showing by Ocean County teams on the first day of the tournament. Both also ended long droughts by winning outright division championships and have their best teams in the last decade or so. That statement is saying something for Manchester, which has had talent pass through the program over the last 10 years but hasn’t had it all come together. This year is still up in the air and the Hawks showed Tuesday they are ready to make a deep run.

Brick Memorial, meanwhile, has a dominant big man in Luke Braaten, who has likely been the Shore’s best rim protector, with Ranney’s Charlies Anyichie also in the conversation. Braaten doesn’t always have to score for Brick Memorial to win, but with Manchester boaster three dangerous scorers in Savon Myers, D’Maari Brown and Amari Petty, as well as a 6-foot-7 center in Evan Weiner, Braaten may need to make a substantial offensive contribution. If Manchester can find ways to work around Braaten in the paint – and they have one of the Shore’s best sharpshooters in Brown and one of its best athletes in Myers – it will have a great chance to win.

The Pick: Manchester, 64-57

No. 10 Holmdel at No. 7 Jackson Memorial, 5:30 p.m.

Thursday is a big night for both of these programs because not only is it a chance to reach the final eight of the Shore Conference Tournament this weekend, but it’s a chance to set next year’s team up for an even bigger run with an experienced team. Jackson Memorial is seeking its first trip to the quarterfinals since nearly upsetting tournament champion Point Pleasant Beach in 2014 and has done it with one senior among its regular rotation (forward Steven Bado). Juniors Samir Padilla, Respect Tyleek, Charlie Meglio and Keith Adame have all been important two-way contributors as starters and are hoping this year is the start of a memorable two-year stretch.

Holmdel’s starting five is even younger, with four sophomores and freshman Evan Romano leading a Hornets team that has won five straight heading into Thursday. Southern nearly took out Holmdel on Tuesday in a 49-48 Hornets win and mounted a similar challenge at Jackson Memorial last week in a 46-44 loss. Despite the similar recent scores against a common opponent, the two teams have counteracting strengths, although both are comfortable in an up-tempo game. Holmdel’s edge it that its shooting is more consistent, while Jackson Memorial a more athletic squad that can get going being the arc, but not as reliably. With a young team on the other side and a wicked press defense to lean on down the stretch, the edge goes to the home team.

The Pick: Jackson Memorial, 58-53

No. 14 Freehold Twp. at No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven, 6:30 p.m.

Rumson-Fair Haven High School Thursday night will be the sight of, perhaps, the two best bigs at the Shore. Scott Gyimesi is a Player of the Year candidate for Rumson, while junior Jayden Holmes-Cotter has also been a double-double machine for Freehold Township. Holmes-Cotter is also coming off hitting the shot of the tournament so far – a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Middletown North. Both big men will try to slow down the other while delivering offensive production that meets their high regular standards.

If Gyimesi and Holmes-Cotter neutralize one another, that’s likely an advantage for Rumson. The Bulldogs have been awfully tough to even stay with on their home floor and can space the court with players who not only knock down threes but also play tough defense. Not many teams that shoot as well as Rumson play the defense that the Bulldogs do and vice versa. For Freehold Township to win, it will need players like Sean and Ryan Keegan, Josh Ibarreta and point guard Malachi Harris to produce big plays and that is probably with Holmes-Cotter finding a way to win his match-up vs. Gyimesi. Perhaps they can get close, but the Patriots have a tall hill to climb.

The Pick: Rumson-Fair Haven, 65-49

No. 12 Ranney at No. 5 Manasquan, 6:30 p.m.

You never know which game will be the best one before they all get played, but this one is the most appealing matchup of Thursday’s schedule. Ranney opened the season ranked No. 3 at the Shore and has been ranked in the state Top 20 at one point, while Manasquan opened the season No. 5 and has circled back to that spot. It’s quite possible these are two of the five best teams in the conference and because Ranney was seeded so low, the matchup happens early in the tournament. Throw in that these two teams were supposed to play at least twice during the shortened 2021 season but never did, and there is real anticipation from both sides to finally step on the court against one another.

Ranney has not found its stride to this point, even in handling Red Bank in the opening round. The Panthers were up by 20 at half and let the Bucs creep back in it before closing it out. Isaac Hester is going to be the best guard on the floor Thursday night and Charles Anyichie will be the best athlete, giving Ranney two major weapons on the road. The Panthers will need more, though, and T.J. Braswell-Brown and Zack Davis will have to make major contributions, while Brandon Klatsky will probably need to hit a few threes to help out.

Manasquan’s youth and inexperience has been the source of any doubt about the Warriors this season, but with 22 games under their belt, they are already a battle-tested, seasoned team. Darius Adams and Griffin Linstra don’t play like freshmen, Ryan Frauenheim is a leader as a sophomore, Alex Konov joins Adams as a game-breaking shooter, and senior Matt Solomon is a typically, Squan-tough forward who will be up for the challenge of battling Anyichie and Davis. It’s not the same matchup that last year would have yielded – or even this year had Elijah Perkins and Ryan Zan stayed at Ranney and Ben Roy not torn his ACL – both the Manasquan-Ranney game should produce plenty of drama in front of a raucous crowd.

It also could produce the biggest “upset” of the tournament, although only by the somewhat misleading seeds.

The Pick: Ranney, 51-49

No. 17 Howell at No. 1 Red Bank Catholic, 7 p.m.

The round-of-16 is usually a walk in the park for the No. 1 seed, but that might not be the case this season. Not only is Red Bank Catholic a less imposing No. 1 than the last few No. 1 teams the Shore has had, but Howell is better than most No. 16 or 17 seeds. The Rebels boast five starters who can score and all five can do it inside and outside. Joe Dupuis has been the hot hand lately, but Zach Emery, Dylan McVeigh and Nick Gallo are seniors at the top of their games as well. The x-factor, meanwhile, is 6-foot-4 junior forward Damien Padilla, who can fill up a stat sheet, defend multiple positions and stretch the floor.

Red Bank Catholic will test all of those Howell weapons on both ends but providing a physical defense to counter Howell’s free-flowing offense, while also posing a similar threat on the offensive end. RBC also likes to play position-less basketball and with Zach Meeks potentially returning from a sprained ankle, the Caseys can get back to having its full roster to mix and match. The options at coach Tyler Schmelz’s disposal are what makes RBC so tough and while Howell can cause similar problems on offense, RBC separates itself on the defensive end.

The Pick: Red Bank Catholic, 67-58

No. 13 Donovan Catholic at No. 4 St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.

Tuesday night against Keyport, Donovan Catholic surrendered 65 points, which was the highest total the Griffins allowed all season, and still won the game by coming up with answer after answer on the offensive end and clutch plays in the final three minutes. It was a major confidence builder for Donovan Catholic, which looks like a team that is growing more confident in their roles on the offensive end. Alex Melon and Kyree Drake are controlling the offense as dual ball-handlers, Vin Coburn is a knock-down shooter, Jalin Butler is a versatile athlete who sets the tone on defense and in the paint, and Nunes Bukula, Dan Schwartz and Peter Farlekas contributing down low.

Collectively, Donovan Catholic will have to figure out an answer for Nate Williams, which no St. John Vianney opponent has been able to do. Teams have beaten the Lancers, but Williams has gotten his in those instances. St. John Vianney has been at its toughest when it can get a fourth scorer going, with Dylan Seay, Omar Calderon and Connor Howard the usual options behind Williams. Defensively, the Lancers have been up-and-down and if they are to make a run, the defense will have to go to another level. If it starts Thursday night, Donovan will have trouble keeping up with the SJV attack, although the matchup of athletes on both sides should make it a fun watch.

The Pick: St. John Vianney, 61-53

 

First-Round Picks Record: 10-2