Boys Basketball – Toms River South Continues Torrid Start With First WOBM Title in 32 Years
TOMS RIVER -- It took 21 games for the Toms River South boys basketball team to reach its sixth win of the 2022-23 season and that would be the last win the Indians would earn in the entire season.
With most of last year's key contributors back this season, Toms River South reached win No. 6 in one third the number of games and more than a full month earlier then in 2022-23.
Win No. 6 of the new season also gave the Indians a distinction they have not held since 1991: WOBM Christmas Classic champions.
Two of its top players from last year -- Jordan Jones and Rob Peirson -- shined in Saturday's Steve Gepp Bracket championship game at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in leading Toms River South to a 63-57 win over Donovan Catholic that secured the Indians their first championship win at the WOBM Classic in 32 years.
"There is a lot of energy in this tournament, and in this arena, with this environment, it's kind of hard to come out flat," Toms River South coach Vin Arminio said. "We're already close to passing our win total from last year and I just keep telling them every day in practice to get ready for the next one."
Jones scored a game-high 22 points while playing only 25 minutes due to foul trouble that landed him on the bench for the last two-plus minutes of the second quarter and more than half of the third.
By the end of the third quarter, Donovan Catholic had turned what was a 33-17 deficit in the middle of the second quarter into a 43-43 game. With Jones on the floor, however, Toms River South's offense was far more effective and the Indians hit the Griffins with a 13-3 run near the tail-end of the fourth quarter to go up 63-53 before Donovan Catholic scored the final four points of the game to shave the margin of defeat to six points.
Jones scored six points in the fourth quarter and assisted one of Peirson's key buckets in the period as well.
Speaking of Peirson, he again lived up the the nickname of "Big-Shot Rob" that his team has bestowed upon him. He authored double-digit scoring fourth quarters in marquee wins over Toms River North in the regular season and Toms River East in the Gepp semifinals, then hit two clutch shots during Saturday's fourth quarter to help the Indians pull away.
Peirson finished with 20 points and eight rebounds and his three-pointer in the fourth quarter broke a 50-50 tie, setting off the 13-3 run and giving Toms River South a lead it would not relinquish. He also took home the Gepp Bracket Most Valuable Player award.
"It's a great group of seniors," Arminio said. "We call (Peirson) "Big-Shot Rob" because he hits shots down the stretch for us."
Sophomore guard Shane Gambarony added 10 points, senior guard Kai Barckley netted eight and both guards dished out five assists in the Toms River South win.
Toms River South built a 33-17 lead by the middle of the second quarter thanks to 13-for-22 (59 percent) shooting. During one stretch of the second and third quarters, the Indians made seven straight shots and eight out of nine with the lone miss coming on a blocked shot.
Donovan Catholic got back in the game thanks to junior guard Ryan Jacobs and Toms River South's foul trouble, which sent Jones, Peirson and Gambarony -- the top three scorers for South on Saturday -- to the bench with two fouls apiece.
"Jordan is our tempo guy and when he is on the floor, it's different," Arminio said. "I tried to get out of the half there without picking up the third foul. He picked up another one in the third. Once he got back out there, I knew we would be alright. We had our foot on the gas pedal and we opened the game up in the fourth."
Jacobs went off for a game-high 27 points after scoring just two in the first quarter. Jacobs went on a personal 6-1 run during the second quarter in which he earned three straight trips to the free-throw line, including one on an and-one. Donovan Catholic made it a 9-1 run to end the half, cutting the Toms River South lead to 34-26 at the break.
Freshman Amare Walker also scored 12 points for Toms River South and scored on a game-tying drive to make it 41-41 late in the fourth quarter. Peirson responded with a layup off a feed from Gambarony before Jacobs scored off a precision pass from Walker to tie the game at 43 to close the third quarter.
Donovan Catholic kept pace up until 50-50, but never took the lead during the game and watched Toms River North pull away in the final four minutes, starting with Peirson's tiebreaking three with 3:42 left.
Senior Declan Sennick also hit a key three-pointer for Toms River South, with his corner stroke opening the fourth-quarter scoring and giving the Indians a 46-43 lead.
"It's a lot of grit," Arminio said. "Guys embrace their roles and we have some grit guys coming off the bench. Jimmy Alexander, Declan Sennick -- we have some role-player guys who give us that extra push. And they know their roles. They know they're not out there to score 30 a night; they know they are out there to grab big rebounds and play hard and I've got to give kudos to those supporting guys."
Before the calendar shifts to 2024, Toms River South has already won its first WOBM Classic title since 1991, beaten Toms River North for the first time since 2014 and matched its 2022-23 win total. Now, the Indians are eying their first winning season since 2014-15, which would come with the program's first Shore Conference Tournament berth since the same year.
"I knew we'd be better this year, I knew we had a great group of seniors coming back, but to get off to this start is a dream come true," Arminio said. "But we're not finished yet. We're looking to go through the state playoffs, we're looking to knock off some teams throughout the year, and I think we're on the map now. Teams know they have to prepare for us."