Middletown North coach Mike Iasparro made a defensive adjustment in the second quarter.
That tweak on defense allowed the No. 17 seed Lions to get back into the game against No. 16 seed Wall Township after the Crimson Knights’ strong first quarter.
Wall still led at halftime by three points, but Middletown North took the lead in the third quarter and then never relinquished it en route to a 49-32 Shore Conference Tournament first-round victory.
“We gave up 14 points in the first quarter and then we gave up 18 points for the rest of the game. We turned up our intensity and we turned up our effort,” Iasparro said. “We did make a few adjustments with their ball screen offense. They were setting screens a lot higher than I had seen on film. We started going under the screens and tried to take away their drive off the ball screen.”
The strategy worked as the Lions (12-10) trimmed Wall’s 14-5 first-quarter lead to 19-16 at halftime. After the third quarter, Middletown North led 32-26 behind a spirited third-quarter effort from senior guard Cody Thompson. He scored nine of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter and junior guard Brian Esser scored all five of his points in the third quarter too.
“It was their home gym and we just came out flat. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the first quarter and they did,” said Middletown North senior guard Will Boman, who finished with nine points. “We just kind of dug ourselves into a hole. We just calmed down and got ourselves back into it, one basket at a time.”
Wall sophomore guard Ryan Janeczek and senior forward Kevin Waters sparked the team’s first-quarter effort with five and four points, respectively. Sophomore guard Trent Mitchell also had three points on a 3-pointer in the first quarter and that gave Wall its largest lead of the game, 14-5.
But things went awry for Wall after the first quarter. The Crimson Knights (14-9) only scored 18 points combined in the final three quarters.
“They sped the game up a little bit and they went from like a speed five to like a speed nine and my guys thought we needed to go from speed eight to speed 15,” Wall coach Mike Puorro said. “They just kind of got the best of us and we started taking ill-advised shots.”
Sophomore guard Brendan Barcas and Janeczek each led the team with eight points. Barcas scored five of his points in the third quarter while Janeczek had the hot hand in the first quarter. Mitchell and Waters each added six points.
“We thought we needed to get a shot off the first pass and unfortunately our immaturity showed a little bit tonight,” Puorro said. “But give them credit, they forced our hand a little bit. But I thought we tried to go way too fast for the type of game that we normally play.”
Boman’s big quarter was the fourth quarter when he scored six of his nine points and Thompson was also a source of offense as he had eight of his points in the fourth quarter on two field goals and a 4-for-5 performance at the free throw line.
“The kids did a good job with the defensive adjustment because all year long we’ve defended a ball screen a certain way,” Iasparro said. “It was difficult at first especially in the second quarter for them to execute it a totally different way. Overall, I think our defense got better as the game went along.”
After giving up double figures in the first quarter, Middletown North’s defense forced Wall into single digit scores the rest of the way for five, seven and six points, respectively, in the final three quarters.
Next up for No. 17 seed Middletown North is a visit to No. 1 seed Lakewood for a 6:30 p.m. Thursday game in the SCT round of 16.