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OCEAN TWP. - Bob Klatt was looking on anxiously from the bench as his Wall boys basketball team started to look a little bit too much like the team that walked out of the gym at Ocean Township High School on the losing end a year ago.

Instead of losing at the buzzer as they did a year ago, the Crimson Knights again showed their coach they have made strides since their 21-win 2018-19 season and accomplished something the program has not since the 1973-74 season.

Wall held off a late-fourth-quarter surge by Ocean Friday, 59-55, to clinch the outright Shore Conference Class B North championship for the second straight year. Wall last won back-to-back division titles since 1972-73 and 1973-74.

Senior Quinn Calabrese led the way for Wall with 17 points and sophomore Colin Ackerman poured in 16 in the win. Junior Pat Lacey also chipped in 13 points, including a pair of game-clinching free throws with five seconds left.

"I was starting to get flashbacks to last year at this place," Klatt said, referencing an Ocean home win over Wall on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by current senior Jack Miller. "It seems like we never like to make it easy on ourselves, but the nice thing is these guys are comfortable with the game on the line, regardless of how things are going."

A Calabrese three-pointer gave Wall its largest lead at 44-33 late in the third quarter. Ocean responded with a 11-2 run to slice Wall's lead to 46-44, led by senior Cole Kelly's five points during the burst. Kelly finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

After Ocean climbed within two, Wall answered with six straight points to pad its lead to 52-44.

Ocean made one last push, cutting Wall's lead to 55-53 on a three-pointer by Sam Meeks with 19 seconds left. After a timeout, Wall broke Ocean's fullcourt pressure for an easy basket, with junior Logan Peters hitting classmate Tom Palluzzi for a layup that stretched the lead back to four.

"The key for us was to keep going to the basket," Ackerman said. "They made some runs but we just tried to stay aggressive on both ends of the floor and keep attacking the paint."

Sophomore Corey Miller earned a trip to the foul line and knocked down both ends of a 1-and-1 to pull Ocean back within 57-55 with eight seconds left. Lacey then hit his two free throws to put the game on ice.

Miller matched Kelly with 16 points to lead Ocean and also dished out five assists. Meeks, meanwhile, added 10 points in the loss.

Wall dropped two division games last year and is two wins away completing a 14-0 season in Class B North, with Colts Neck and Matawan standing between the Crimson Knights and the perfect mark. After those two games, Wall will play at 20-1 Manasquan - the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - in its final game before the Shore Conference Tournament.

While Wall has been perfect in the division, its 4-4 record outside of Class B North includes showcase losses to Irvington, Red Bank Catholic and Toms River North, as well as a WOBM Christmas Classic loss to Marlboro.

"It's been different going from underdogs last year when nobody really knew who we were," Ackerman said. "We have been playing more showcases and I think everyone gets a little nervous.

"We're just going to try to get back to work heading into next week, keep winning and get ready for Manasquan. Those are the games we have been preparing all year to play so we want to be ready."

On top of winning the B North title, Wall is also positioned to be the top seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournament, which the Crimson Knights won as the No. 1 seed a year ago.

"We are trying not to think too much about the big picture," Klatt said. "We need to get better. We have shown flashes at times but I still think we can play a lot better and I know our guys feel the same way. So we're going to go to work and we'll let all the scenarios and the seeding work itself out and just keep trying to get better."

 

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