By Jim Hintelmann
LONG BANCH – It was a big week for Middletown North’s boys basketball team with the Lions achieving two important goals with big wins over Jackson Memorial (36-32) in the Battle of the Boardwalk Saturday, and Christian Brothers Academy (65-46) in an A North showdown Thursday.
In defeating previously unbeaten Jackson Memorial, the Lions had to overcome a height disadvantage along with a slowdown game by Jackson, and did so impressively.
“Every game is a championship game for us,” said North coach Mike Iasparro. “The game plan was to pressure them full court and get them out of their offensive sets and comfort zone.”
The game was important to North because Jackson Memorial ousted the Lions in last year’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals at North’s home court.
“They ended our season and we wanted redemption,” said North’s Jason Huelbig, who was voted the Outstanding Performer of the Game. “It wasn’t hard coming back from the CBA game. A win is a win and I don’t think they wanted it more than we did.”
“We like to play up tempo, but a win is a win,” said North guard Cody Thompson, who has played a major role for the Lions since being moved into the starting lineup at the start of the Buc Holiday Classic last month.
It was Thompson who made the big defensive play of the game with seven seconds remaining.
North’s Tim Frawley made the first of two free throws to give the Lions a 35-32 edge. He missed the second and Jackson’s Brandon Holup got the rebound with a chance for a game-tying three-pointer, but Thompson came from behind, knocked the ball from his hand and recovered it. Frawley sealed the win with another free throw with two seconds to go.
“I just saw him hold the ball out so I went out and got it,” said Thompson, a junior who also is the quarterback for the North football team.
In a slow moving first quarter, Jackson got off to an early 9-5 lead, but a drive by Eric Youncofski and a three-pointer from Will Bowman put North up, 10-9, at the end of the first quarter.
The slow pace continued in the second quarter with Jackson getting its final lead at 17-16 on a jumper by Brandon McDonnell, but baskets by Bowman, Thompson and Frawley gave North a 22-17 lead at the half.
Jackson never led in the second half but got as close as 33-32 with 4:32 left on a free throw by Brian Kenny, who played for Colts Neck last year before transferring to Jackson Memorial last Spring.
Huelbig made one of two free throws and, after each team traded turnovers, Frawley dropped in his two free throws to clinch it.
North played a near flawless game in the win over CBA, overcoming an early 5-2 Colts lead with 11 straight points, seven by Thompson, and never looking back.
After upsetting CBA on the Colts gym its first meeting last year, the Lions were crushed at home by CBA 69-35, in the rematch. That was all the motivation North needed Thursday.
“Obviousy that was a big motivator for us coming into the game,” said Iasparro. “We felt that we were embarrassed on our home court in a big game and atmosphere.”
Thompson and Huelbig continued to lead the Lions in the second quarter with nine and six points respectively as North opened up a 30-16 halftime advantage.
“Last year was all the motivation we needed,” said Huelbig, who had 18 points, including four spectacular dunks, two on alley-oop passes from Youncofski. “We wanted to set the tone and make a statement that we are not the same team as last year.
“Eric is a great passer and, when he throws it at the rim, my job is to go get it,” he said. “This team has been working together since travel ball.”
North didn’t play at its best in earlier wins over Marlboro and Howell, two teams that CBA crushed, but the Lions were ready for CBA.
“This was a must win if we are to win the division,” said Youncofski. “Coach told us not to conserve our energy, but we can turn it up a notch. Considering what happened last year, this was big.”
The second half was more of the same with North leading by as many as 22 points.
“We struggled to score,” admitted CBA coach Geoff Billet. “Their size and athleticism threw us off in the first half. I can’t remember us scoring so few points in a half, but you have to give them a lot of credit.
“We didn’t shoot well,” he said, “but North was just better than us.”