COLTS NECK - When senior guard Danny Gaines let a deep 3-pointer fly from the left wing as time expired on Monday night, it looked like Colts Neck might unveil the sequel to its buzzer-beating sectional championship of two seasons ago.

Unfortunately, Gaines did not join former guard Brian Clarke in Cougars' lore, as his last-second triple was off the mark to allow seventh-seeded Trenton to close out a 42-41 thriller over top-seeded Colts Neck (19-8) in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV final.

Colts Neck lost a heart-breaker to Trenton to come up just short of its second sectional title in three seasons.
Colts Neck lost a heart-breaker to Trenton to come up just short of its second sectional title in three seasons. (Photo by Scott Stump)

Gaines finished with a game-high 16 points, 12 of which came in the second half, including a corner 3-pointer that cut the lead to 42-41 with 46.4 seconds remaining.

"(Gaines) made the 3 to put us there, and he's our best 3-point shooter, so he's the guy we want shooting that,'' Colts Neck head coach Lou Piccola said.

Clarke beat Freehold Township with a 10-footer at the buzzer to give the Cougars their first sectional title in history in 2016, but the Tornadoes (22-7) made sure there would be no similar heroics on Monday night by holding Colts Neck to 7 fourth-quarter points to offset a 6-point fourth quarter of their own.

The Tornadoes already had experience in having to stifle a team in the second half to advance in the tournament, as they rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat defending sectional champion Hunterdon Central in the quarterfinals by limiting the Red Devils to only five total points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

"If you know Trenton High history, we pride ourselves on defense,'' guard Ji'Ayir Brown said. "Nobody works like us in the practice. We run in practice all day, just so we can come out here and play that 94 feet of defense like we did tonight."

The Tornadoes captured their first sectional title since 2014 in their proud history and advance to face Shawnee on Wednesday at Egg Harbor Township High School in the Group IV semifinals.

Brown finished with 10 points to lead Trenton, which survived a 4-for-15 performance from the foul line. The Tornadoes missed the front end of three one-and-ones in the final 1:52, including a miss by Reggie James (8 points) with 9.7 seconds remaining that allowed Colts Neck and Gaines to get one last try to win the game.

"We were scared, I'm not gonna lie," Brown said about the final sequence.

Photo by Paula Lopez
Photo by Paula Lopez

Neither team led by more than five points the entire game. Colts Neck executed its defensive gameplan by employing a 2-3 zone and a 1-3-1 zone to hold the high-scoring Tornadoes to 18-for-39 (46 percent) shooting, including 2-for-13 from 3-point range, while also forcing 13 turnovers.

Trenton negated its rough shooting night with 12 offensive rebounds that led to easy second-chance points. The Tornadoes also held Colts Neck to 6-for-16 shooting in the second half while forcing nine turnovers after the break and 17 for the game.

"It was all about staying in front of their two scorers (Gaines and Ben Bosland) and trying not to let them get backdoor,'' Brown said. "You've got to play tough, honest defense."

"If you told me the game was gonna be in the 40s, we've got to win that game,'' Piccola said. "We took everything away. We just wanted them to think a little bit differently every time they came down because usually they're a transition team."

"They're a man team, but I knew they weren't going to go man with us,'' Trenton head coach Darryl Young said. "My kids weathered the storm with the zone. Good teams win in any style. We found a way to get it done."

Trenton led 26-25 at the half as Colts Neck kept pace thanks to senior forward Rob Hill, who scored all nine of his points in the first half. Gaines came alive with seven points in the third quarter after going 0-for-5 in the second quarter, as the game remained a two-point Trenton lead going into the final period.

Colts Neck senior Danny Gaines scored 16 points Monday to lead all scorers in the Central Group IV final. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Colts Neck senior Danny Gaines scored 16 points Monday to lead all scorers in the Central Group IV final. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Colts Neck tied it at 38 on a pair of free throws by senior Ben Bosland (8 points) with 3:39 left in the game, but the Tornadoes answered with a jumper by guard Nasiir McMillan and never relinquished the lead. A lay-up by senior guard Jaquae Alfred off a turnover made it 42-38 before Gaines drilled his second 3-pointer of the game for what turned out to be the final score for the Cougars.

The victory was a return to form for Trenton, which was long the heavyweight in the Central Jersey Group IV bracket.

"Me and (former) Coach (Greg) Grant, when we played at 'The High,' we didn't really look at the Central Jersey championship as anything,'' Young said. "It was all about getting that Group IV title. You didn't really appreciate how good it was to win this. As a coach, I'm so appreciative knowing how hard it was to get this game."

As for Colts Neck, the loss was especially painful because it was the final game for nine seniors, including all five of its starters.

"I told them that all nine of them stayed the course,'' Piccola said. "You tell me you have a team with nine seniors who will come to practice every day and play hard and accept their roles? You just don't see that any more, which really made this a special group."

Box score

Trenton 42, Colts Neck 41

Trenton (42): Brown 5 0-5 10, McMillan 3 0-0 7, Kelly 0 0-0 0, Williams 1 0-0 2, James 3 1-2 8, Whitmore 0 0-2 0, Jackson 4 0-0 8, Vereen 0 0-0 0, Estevez 0 0-0 0, Alfred 2 3-6 7. Totals: 18 4-15 42.

Colts Neck (41): Abujawheh 0 0-0 0, Albom 1 0-0 2, Bosland 3 2-2 8, Federici 3 0-0 6, Gaines 7 0-0 16, Quddus 0 0-0 0, R. Hill 4 1-2 9. Totals: 18 3-4 41.

Trenton (22-7)          16   10   10   6  - 42

Colts Neck (19-8)    16     9     9    7 - 41

Three-pointers: (C) Gaines 2; (T) McMillan, James. Fouled out: None.


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