Things looked bleak for the Toms River North boys basketball team in the first half.
The Mariners were on the road and struggling offensively in Jackson Memorial’s gymnasium, two of their better players were in foul trouble and they only scored 12 points in the first half.
But the game was tied at 12 at halftime and then Mariners took over the second half, especially in the fourth quarter by getting Jackson Memorial into the double-bonus. The Mariners made their first eight free throws of the fourth quarter and that carried them to a 45-36 Class A South victory over the Jaguars on Friday night.
The victory gives Toms River North (17-2, 11-1) a one-game lead over last year’s division champion Jackson Memorial (15-4, 10-2) with two division games to play. It was also the third time this season the Mariners defeated the Jaguars, after two regular -season victories and a triumph in the WOBM Christmas Classic semifinals.
“We struggle scoring offensively especially in the halfcourt set, we know our strength as a team is getting steals and going in transition and finishing,” Toms River North coach Rory Caswell said. “So, we know we have to force tempo and in the first half, we couldn’t do that. We had a lot of guys in foul trouble.”
Senior forward Solly Stansbury (11 points) and senior guard Karl Blum were two of the players in foul trouble in the first half.
“We were trying to push the ball, unfortunately with Solly Stansbury and Karl Blum out with foul trouble in the half and we have a couple guys injured and others sick, so we were very limited on who we could go to,” Caswell said. “We really just played solid defense. That was huge that we only gave up 12 points in the first half.”
Jackson Memorial jumped to an 11-6 lead after the first quarter, but offensively challenged Toms River North outscored the Jaguars 6-1 in the second quarter.
Senior guard Ronnie Marinaccio (six points) made a buzzer-beating layup to give the Mariners a 24-22 lead after three quarters before the Mariners took over the game in the fourth quarter.
It started at the foul line, as the Mariners made their first eight free throws of the quarter, while drawing Jackson Memorial into the double-bonus with 4:57 left. The Mariners went 13-for-21 from the line in the fourth quarter.
“We are good free-throw shooting team. We were at 70 percent as a team at one point this season but we’ve had a couple off games since then,” Caswell said. “But it is all about confidence with them, when they are confident going to the free throw line which we were tonight, I knew they would knock them down.”
The Mariners only have to beat Lacey on Monday at home to clinch at least a share of the Class A South title and beat Toms River South on Thursday at home to win the division title outright.
While Stansbury led the Mariners with 11 points, senior guard Damien Singleton added 10 points and junior guard Kyle Carrington had seven points.
Jackson Memorial junior Eric Carter led the Jaguars with 11 points and senior Nick Specht added nine points on three 3-pointers and senior Salam Simon and senior Mike Specht each had seven points.
“I think it was a combination of turnovers that led to quick scores and breakdowns defensively,” Jackson Memorial coach Joe Fagan said. “There was one particular spurt in the fourth quarter where I subbed Eric Carter out and they took advantage by scoring four points in 45 seconds. I give them credit for recognizing that and attacking on their end.”
Jackson Memorial has two division games left as well and will play at Toms River East on Monday and at Lacey next Friday.