The Lakewood boys basketball team showed Spotswood why it owns the top seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II tournament.
The Piners ousted the fourth-seeded Chargers, 53-36, in the semifinals Friday night at the John “Pott” Richardson Gymnasium. Lakewood (25-2) will host Manasquan in the championship game, 6:30 p.m., Monday.
Senior guard Tyrice Beverette paced Lakewood with 24 points. However, senior forward Erick Davis, the Piners’ sixth man, was Lakewood’s Mr. Energy, scoring 10 points when the winners most needed an infusion.
Davis entered the game late in the opening quarter, taking over for 6-foot-71/2, 300-pound junior center Ben Watson, who got off to a slow start. The Piners scored the final two points of the quarter and the first nine of the second. Davis keyed the surge with seven points as the Piners went ahead, 21-9.
Davis scored the first point of the second quarter with a free throw for a 13-9 lead with 6:09 left. Senior guard Malik Mendez scored on a layup to make it 15-9 with 5:38 to go. Davis rained home a trey from the left corner to push the lead to 18-9 with 5:02 remaining and bombed home a three-pointer from the top of the circle, putting Lakewood in front, 21-9, with 4:03 to play.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” said Davis, a 6-foot-3, 175-pounder. “I wanted to get the rebounds and do the little stuff to help the team. I can score and do the other things. I don’t mind coming off the bench at all. Not starting is not a big deal to me.”
The Chargers (21-8) cut the deficit to 29-24 with 4:05 left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by junior guard Jake Dadika, who scored a team-high 13. It was the closest Spotswood would get the rest of the way. Beverette answered with two treys from the right corner, pushing the lead to 35-24 with 2:11 left in the third quarter.
Davis stole the ball near midcourt, blasted home a right-handed dunk over a defender and drew the foul, putting Lakewood ahead, 37-24, with 1:56 remaining in the third quarter as the Piners’ fans roared their approval. Davis converted the free throw, sending the Piners in front, 38-24.
“I am very athletic and I can jump very high,” Davis said. “He hit me near my chest. I felt the ball would go in. I heard our crowd. That dunk was a big confidence builder for us. It changed the momentum of the game.”
“Erick is a solid sixth man,” Lakewood coach Randy Holmes said. “I knew he had that type of ability. He can go to the basket, shoot the three and jump out of the gym. Erick waited patiently for his chance. He paid his dues. He came to practice and always worked hard. He never complained. Even it was not looking good for him, he always came to practice with a great attitude.”
Spotswood coach Steve Mate said he was impressed with Lakewood’s defense.
“They defended us real well,” he said. “They switched on our screens. We had to be able to penetrate. Our shots did not go down. That’s the bottom line. We did not play our ‘A’ game.” I have no other letter for it. Let’s leave it at that.”