RED BANK - Throughout an up-and-down season, Long Branch has shown that when it plays up to its potential, the Green Wave are much better than their record might indicate.

When the "good Long Branch" shows up with its guards attacking from all over the floor off the dribble, its defense forcing turnovers in the backcourt and challenging 3-point shooters, and its big men doing their job on the boards, they have the look of a team that will be a handful for anyone when the Shore Conference Tournament kicks off next week.

Tyree Morris and Long Branch are looking to open some eyes in the postseason by playing up to their potential. (Photo by Rob Samuels)
Tyree Morris and Long Branch are looking to open some eyes in the postseason by playing up to their potential. (Photo by Rob Samuels)

Conversely, when they are not focused, they are capable of stumbling against teams like Monmouth (4-17) and Middletown South (7-15), which both have knocked off Long Branch this season.

"Nightly we've been trying to find which team is going to show up,'' head ccach Stan Mooney said.

In Friday night's 57-47 road win over first-place Red Bank Catholic that spoiled the Caseys' Senior Night and denied them the outright Class B North title, Long Branch showed its capabilities.

"Tonight was the team that we worked all year to become,'' Mooney said. "They came here knowing that RBC was in first place and just wanted to show everyone that we can compete. It gave them that boost that we can play with the good teams."

Junior guard Tyree Morris had a game-high 20 points and Dennis added 18 in the win over RBC, with the two combining for 15 fourth-quarter points to seal the win. The Green Wave (13-7) swept the season series from RBC and have also beaten Manasquan and Middletown North, who ended up tying the Caseys for the overall division title.

"I personally think B North is the toughest division in the Shore Conference, and we beat every team that tied for first place,'' sophomore guard Marc Dennis said. "That says a lot about us. We had a few ups and downs, and we started playing as a team and picked it up."

The Green Wave showed on Friday night that they have three guards capable of creating their own shot off the dribble as well as fashioning scoring opportunities for teammates. After RBC tied the game at 37 in the fourth quarter, Morris buried a 3-pointer, Dennis scored in transition and then senior guard Cascius Briggs scored on a crossover and finish as part of a 9-0 run for a lead Long Branch never relinquished.

More importantly, the Green Wave forced four turnovers during that span, which was a sign to Mooney that this is when his team is at its best.  

"I came up in the Gerry Matthews era (at Long Branch) where defense was key,'' Mooney said. "Offense will come because we have the scorers. Defense makes offense - get the rebounds, transition, that makes our offense. We're that kind of team."

The Green Wave also showed composure after two key members of the rotation, junior guard Kevin Porch and junior center Kaymar Mims both fouled out midway through the final period. When RBC guard Mike Conley buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to cut Long Branch's lead to five with three minutes left, that's a spot where the Green Wave could have folded.

Instead, a give-and-go in the lane between Briggs and Dennis resulted in a short jumper that Dennis dropped in to keep Long Branch in command. Briggs then helped finish it off by going coast-to-coast for a lay-up and the foul before polishing off the 3-point play to help wrap up the win.

It's no coincidence that Morris, Dennis and Briggs all returned with a season of experience this winter. Those three are part of a core of six players including Mims, Porch and junior forward T.J. Fosque that all returned from last season.

"Once we're up we need to put our foot on teams' necks and just keep our energy up,'' Morris said.

"The fight has been there all year with the kids,'' Mooney said. "They never gave up, and that's one thing I give them kudos on. When we give our all and put things together, teams have to watch out for us."

The returning players also felt like they had something to prove because many viewed last year's squad as a one-man team behind the now-graduated Anthony Velasquez. A transfer from Puerto Rico, he was one of the Shore's top scorers last season.

"We had Anthony Velasquez last year and a lot of people thought he was our entire team, but we've been playing together since elementary school,'' Dennis said. "We know how to win."

Another important development has been players fitting into their roles after some bumps in the road early on.

"Coming into the season everyone wanted to score 20 points and do this and do that, but now it's just 'get a couple lay-ups, get a few steals, calm down and the game is going to come to you,''' Dennis said.

As the Green Wave look forward to the SCT, where they project as a seed in the teens, they also are eager to put one of the Shore's oldest and proudest programs back in the conversation among the top 10 in the area despite their underdog status. The players are well-acquainted with the history.

Dennis' father, also named Marc, was a standout guard on the Long Branch team that reached the SCT final in 1994. The Green Wave's last SCT title came in 1997.

"It's about putting the town back on the map and working hard to keep it there,'' Morris said.

In the past few seasons, the Green Wave have often been on the verge of major upsets in the early rounds of the SCT and state tournaments only to fall short in overtime or a heart-breaking finish. Minimizing turnovers and controlling the lead in the fourth quarter are the two biggest issues Mooney stressed have been the difference between the "good" Long Branch and the "bad" Long Branch this season.

If they put it all together at the right time, they have the ability to grab some headlines as the postseason gets underway.

"We can play with any team in the Shore,'' Dennis said. "When we're grinding, going through our sets and listening to what coach tells us, we can really be a great team and be dangerous."

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