By Jim Hintelmann
LINCROFT – This time the roles were reversed.
Last month, Middletown North played host to Christian Brothers Academy in an early A Division North showdown and played one of its best games in rolling to a 63-43 win.
North, though, had to come to CBA Monday for the rematch, and the Colts were ready this time with a solid effort of its own with a 66-56 revenge win over the Lions.
Middletown North’s setback just about ended any hopes for at least a tie for the A Division title as it was their third division loss. Division leader Freehold Township has just two losses.
“We switched up the match-ups a little bit,” said CBA coach Geoff Billet. “We did a few things on offense and took advantage of how they guarded us.”
CBA, using an outstanding effort from senior Kieran Hughes, an effective zone defense, and accurate shooting, completely dominated the first half and eventually built up a 48-28 lead midway through the third quarter, but North finally put things together and made a run that almost lifted it to a stunning victory.
“We’ve been in a lot of games this year like that (losing big leads),” said Billet.
“Maybe now we’ll win our share instead of getting beat down the stretch.”
Led by Jason Huelbig and Cody Thompson, North slowly cut into the big CBA lead and had closed to 43-38 after three quarters by scoring the final 10 points of the period on a free throw by Eric Youncofski, two free throws and a three-pointer by Huelbig, and two foul shots and a lay up by Thompson.
“We had a few situations this year where we had some letdowns,” said Hughes, who had a career high 25 points. “We switched to a man-to-man in the third quarter and they made a few shots, so we went back to the zone.”
North kept the pressure on in the final quarter and closed the gap to 59-56 with three minutes left, but CBA settled down and scored the final seven points of the game.
North, meanwhile finally hit a cold spell and missed their final 10 shots of the game.
“We expended a lot of energy to get the big lead,” Billet explained, “and I think that North expended a little energy coming back in the second half. Both teams were tired down the stretch but, fortunately, we had the lead and our kids stepped up. It might have been different if North was in front.”
CBA was a completely different team in the first half than it was in the first meeting of the teams, breaking away from a 10-10 tie and opening up a 36-23 lead by half time.
“We didn’t do the things that we wanted to do in the first half,” said North coach Mike Iasparro. “We didn’t execute and gave CBA too many open looks.
“In the second half, we used full court pressure and got them out of their comfort zone. We had the lead down to three and had some open looks on our next three possessions, but the shots didn’t go in. I think our team was a little tired.”
“We had a lot of focus coming into the game,” said Hughes. “We had a great day of practice yesterday (Sunday). After the last game, we wanted to come out and make a statement – that we were on the same level as they are.”
Like North, CBA is just about out of contention for at least a share of the A North title. Freehold Township only has to beat a weak Howell team Thursday to wrap up the division.
“This game is really for seeding purposes in the Shore Conference Tournament,”’ said Billet.
The seeding committee for the tournament will meet Sunday at Red Bank Catholic.
“Hughes is a tremendous leader,” said Billet. “He’s a smart player and very versatile. That is a big plus for us. He’s developed an inside game this year and is a very good ball-handler for his size.”