The Lakewood High School boys basketball team escaped trouble in its 62-49 win over Manasquan in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game Monday night.
With 6:18 left in the fourth quarter, senior guard Tyrice Beverette–the Piners’ top player–went to the bench with an injured left ankle and Lakewood ahead, 41-31. Beverette, who scored a team-high 17 points, did not return to action. Despite their star player’s absence, the top-seeded Piners outscored the Big Blue Warriors, 21-18, the rest of the way.
Lakewood (26-2) will meet Medford Tech in the Group II semifinals 7 p.m. Wednesday at Perth Amboy High School.
“Tyrice tweaked his left ankle,” Lakewood coach Randy Holmes said. “We don’t know if he will play Wednesday. He’s in the trainer’s room. Knowing Tyrice, even it’s broken he will be willing to play.”
“I can’t talk right now,” Beverette said after the game. “Call me later. I turned down three other reporters so I can’t talk to you.”
The Piners banded together over the final 6:18 despite the loss of Beverette, who averages almost 19 points per game.
Junior forward Maurice Diawara scored five of his 11 points. Senior forward Erick Davis, Lakewood’s sixth man, netted six of his eight. Senior forward Jared Craddox struck for five of his 13. Junior center Ben Watson added three of his nine. Senior guard Malik Mendez scored two of his four.
Lakewood’s lead mushroomed to as many as 15, 55-40, with 1:51 remaining on a Davis free throw.
“When Tyrice went out, I pulled the guys together and said, ‘This is what TTE (total team effort), is all about,’ ” Holmes said. “When one of our brothers went down, we came together.”
“Our brother, Tyrice Beverette, fell and we had to come together,” Craddox said. “We worked too hard to lose it. We knew we had enough talent to get the W (win).”
It was the second sectional title for Lakewood in Holmes’ sixth year at the helm. Host Lakewood won Central Jersey Group III crown in 2009-2010, besting Neptune, and lost to the visiting Scarlet Fliers in the Central Jersey III championship game last year.
“This title is very sweet,” said Holmes, whose suit was drenched by a bucket of ice water, courtesy of his Piners. “It brings the community together. It puts pride in the community.”
Holmes was an assistant coach under John “Pott” Richardson in 2001-02 when the Piners bested Woodrow Wilson of Camden in the South Jersey Group III final at Eastern. Holmes scored more than 1,000 career points as a Piner under Richardson. Holmes enjoyed perhaps his finest hour Monday night as coach in the Piner Palace, dedicated as the John “Pott” Richardson Gymnasium on Feb. 7.
“This is the first banner we won in the John “Pott” Richardson Gymnasium,” Holmes said, “and that’s what makes this title so special.”
“This title is special, very special,” Davis said. “Last year, they beat us in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. We had a chip on our shoulders tonight. Plus, we lost to Neptune. We just wanted to come back and win.”
Beverette netted 11 first-half points. Senior guard J.R. Hobbie led second-seeded Manasquan (23-4) with 23, including 21 in the second half. Junior guard Tommy Toole added 11.
“We struggled to get going early,” Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said. “I felt they beat us on the boards. We did not get that extra possession. They were well disciplined and as tough as nails. They deserve it. I think they will win the whole thing.”
“This is a great feeling,” Craddox said. “We don’t want to stop here.”