Boys Basketball – SSN Army Strong Team of the Week: Marlboro
When the players on the Marlboro boys basketball team woke up for school on Thursday, Feb. 16, they were part of a program that had never reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals in its history.
Five-and-a-half days later those Mustangs were celebrating a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game via one of the upsets of the season in the Shore and even throughout the state.
Marlboro made school history over the last week in wins over Lakewood, Freehold Township and Ranney, which gave the Mustangs their first ever berth in the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship of the SCT. After knocking off those three high-profile Shore Conference teams, Marlboro is the Week Eight Shore Sports Network Army Strong Team of the Week.
For the first half of its round-of-16 win against Lakewood on Feb. 16, Marlboro looked like it might bow out of the tournament on its home court to the No. 11 seed Piners. Lakewood led 23-17 late in the first half and the Mustangs shot an anemic 7-for-29 (24 percent) from the floor over the first 16 minutes.
The tide, however, turned in the second half as Marlboro's shooters caught fire to held the Mustangs overwhelm Lakewood, 64-44, to advance to the program's first ever SCT quarterfinal round.
Marlboro's hot shooting carried over to the quarterfinals at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, where the Mustangs met Class A North division rival and third-seeded Freehold Township. Marlboro dropped both divisional games to Freehold Township during the regular season by a combined four points and started off cold from the field in both games. The Mustangs had no such trouble on Sunday, when they stormed out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back, beating the rival Patriots, 69-59.
Beating both Lakewood and Freehold Township to advance to the program's first ever SCT semifinal would have cemented this year's Marlboro team as one of the best in school history, but these Mustangs were just getting started. Against No. 2 Ranney - the No. 6 team in the state heading into the Tuesday's SCT semifinals - Marlboro jumped out to a seven-point halftime lead and made big play after big play in the final two minutes to stun the Panthers, 50-47, to advance to the SCT final Saturday at Monmouth against No. 1 seed and defending champion Mater Dei Prep.
In the win over Ranney, Marlboro took six shots at the basket - two three-pointers and four foul shots - and made all six. Senior Ryan LaRocca hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 1:58 left and after Ranney tied the game with a little more than 1:30 left, the Mustangs milked a minute of clock before senior P.J. Ringel drove the lane and kicked the ball to classmate Dan Weiss for the go-ahead three from the right wing. Weiss's Shot Heard 'Round the Shore gave Marlboro a 46-43 lead with 35 seconds left.
Sophomore Dylan Kaufman and Ringel then combined to go 4-for-4 from the foul line in the final 20 seconds after the two combined to shoot 4-for-11 in the game leading up to that point.
With its run to the SCT final, the Mustangs can capture the program's first SCT title ever before heading into the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV Tournament on Monday. As the No. 4 seed, the Mustangs eyed the sectional tournament as their chance to hang the program's first banner, but that chance came about a week earlier than most expected.
2017 Team of the Week Winners
Week 7: Freehold Township
Week 6: Brick
Week 5: CBA
Week 4: Donovan Catholic
Week 3: Ranney
Week 2: Rumson-Fair Haven
Week 1: Ocean