WALL TOWNSHIP - In a game where it missed its first 10 shots of the fourth quarter and one of its best players suffered a frustrating shooting night, Wall's defense was the reason the Crimson Knights were only seconds away from a rare trip to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night.

All they had to do was get one more stop.

It was only fitting that the game came down to fifth-seeded Wall having to make a defensive stand to hold off 12th-seeded Southern with 15.2 seconds left in the game. The Crimson Knights delivered, as a combination of seniors Brendan Barcas and Matt Andrejco was able to disrupt a short jumper by Southern's Jake Logue as time expired to seal a 52-51 win, one of the biggest victories in the last 41 years for the Crimson Knights.

"We expect all this,'' said first-year Wall coach Matt Kukoda. "We're trying to build a winning culture here. It's great for the program and great for the kids. We just want to get the program to levels it hasn't been in a long time."

Wall (17-5) will now take on fourth-seeded Toms River North at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday at Brookdale Community College in the SCT quarterfinals. The Crimson Knights' only trip to the SCT final came in 1974, and this may be the first time they have advanced to the quarterfinals since that season. They already have won their first outright division title since that 1973-74 campaign.

The final defensive stand concluded a fourth quarter in which Wall held the Rams (17-6) to seven points on 3-for-9 shooting and forced five turnovers after allowing 19 points in the third quarter. That helped them survive a 4-for-15 shooting quarter of their own, which included 10 straight misses to start the period.

Wall's Trent Mitchell, shown earlier this season, drove for the game-winning basket with 22 seconds left against Southern in the Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16. (Photo by Larry Murphy/Sports Pix NJ)
Wall's Trent Mitchell, shown earlier this season, drove for the game-winning basket with 22 seconds left against Southern in the Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16. (Photo by Larry Murphy/Sports Pix NJ)

"We just had to lock in on defense,'' said Barcas, who had 12 points. "I knew I had someone help side (on the final play), and we play good team defense."

"We certainly felt we had a foul call at the end on a good, aggressive take,'' Southern coach Eric Fierro said about Logue's final attempt. "There was a lot of contact, and we expect to get that call."

The reason Wall was in position to close out the win with a stop was because of a Southern turnover on an inbounds play from its own baseline with under a minute remaining that led to the game-winning basket by Wall senior guard Trent Mitchell, who had a team-high 14 points. After working the ball around the perimeter against Southern's 1-3-1 zone, Mitchell got a step on Logue (12 points) after he tried to go for a steal on a pass by Barcas at the top of the key. Mitchell then took it all the way into the lane for a lefty lay-up and the go-ahead bucket with 22 seconds remaining.

"I saw (Barcas) drive, so I was starting to spot up, thinking I had a wide-open jumpshot,'' Mitchell said. "Then the kid jumped out, so I just saw the lane and took it."

"I thought we did a good job of getting shots against their zone, and we felt like it was only a matter of time before we started to penetrate the gaps,'' Kukoda said. "Sure enough, Brendan got to the rim a couple times, and then came Trent's emphatic finish for the final score."

Wall ended the game on a 6-0 run, as Barcas drove the lane and scored to cut it to 51-48 with 1:33 remaining, and then the Achilles' heel for the Rams all season long, free-throw shooting, left the door open for the comeback. Junior forward Peyton Wejnert, who had a game-high 22 points, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:07 remaining, and Mitchell came down the other end and splashed in a mid-range jumper to trim the lead to 51-50 with 35 seconds to go.

"I felt it right there that that was our chance,'' Mitchell said. "We had to capitalize on it."

That set up the final sequence of the turnover, the bucket by Mitchell, and the game-clinching stop. Southern shot 6-for-14 from the foul line in the game.

"We missed free throws up three, and we turned the ball over up three,'' Fierro said. "I'm not taking anything away from Wall. They kind of got the magical feeling this season, but to me we lost the game in the last couple minutes with the turnovers and our inability to make free throws."

The teams were tied at 25 at halftime thanks to a combined 15 points by Wejnert and Logue and seven points by Wall forward Joe Tashjy, who finished with nine. Barcas, who had five assists, was threading passes from the top of the key through the Southern zone to Tashjy and sophomore Mike Andrejco along the baseline for lay-ups or fouls. Sophomore R.J. Janeczek's putback at the second-quarter buzzer tied it going into the break.

"They're long, so it's tough to pass around them,'' Barcas said. "We just had to use ball fakes and attack."

Southern was able to get some separation in the third quarter, building a six-point lead when Wejnert, one of the Shore Conference's top scorers, drained a 3-pointer with 1:03 left in the period to make it 41-35.

The 6-foot-6 Wejnert poured in 12 of his 22 points in the third quarter, scoring on post-ups and putbacks. However, the Crimson Knights held Wejnert to three points in the fourth quarter by switching Mitchell back onto him after foul trouble had necessitated him coming off Wejnert in the third.

"I think his length hurt because Wejnert wasn't able to shoot over him, and with Trent's physicality, I don't think he was able to establish position in the post, which he did the whole third quarter,'' Kukoda said.

"He's going to get to the basket, so we just tried to not foul him and go straight up, and then finish it off with the rebound,'' Barcas said about Wejnert.

Wall trimmed Southern's lead to 44-41 going into the fourth quarter thanks to 3-pointers by senior Ryan Janeczek and Mitchell.

Janeczek, one of Wall's top players, shot 3-for-16 from the field, including 2-for-13 from 3-point range, but he made his baskets count, as his second 3-pointer cut Southern's lead to 47-44 with 3:35 left in the game for Wall's first points of the fourth quarter.

"We always believe that percentages go out the window down the stretch,'' Mitchell said. "We trust Ryan, so we know when we give it to him at the end of the game that he's going to make that shot."

Southern now looks to rebound for the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV playoffs, where it will face Shawnee in the first round.

"The one thing we do best at Southern is regroup,'' Fierro said. "Obviously this is a heart-wrenching, crushing loss, but we'll bounce back."

As for Wall, the Crimson Knights are in rare territory. They are essentially this season's version of last year's Matawan team, which accomplished things it hadn't done since the 1950s.

"We don't mind being the underdog,'' Barcas said. "We like that because we know we have something to prove. We can't be complacent with getting these wins. We're excited for Sunday."

Box score

Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16

Wall 52, Southern 51

Southern (51): Logue 5 1-2 12, Wejnert 8 5-10 22, Dubois 2 0-2 4, Ray 4 0-0 10, Clark 1 0-0 3, Leone 0 0-0 0, Valeriani 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 6-14 51.

Wall (52): Matt Andrejco 0 1-2 1, Mike Andrejco 0 6-6 6, Barcas 6 0-0 12, RJ Janeczek 1 0-0 2, Ryan Janeczek 3 0-0 8, Mitchell 6 0-3 14, Joe Tashjy 4 0-0 9. Totals: 20 7-11 52.

Southern (17-6)   13  12  19  7 - 51

Wall (17-5)           12  13  16  9 - 52

Three-pointers: (S) Ray 2, Logue, Wejnert, Clark; (W) Ryan Janeczek 2, Mitchell 2, Tashjy. Fouled out: None.


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