By Jim Hintelmann
MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP – A sign of a very good basketball team is having a poor shooting game against a quality opponent yet still find a way to win.
Such was the case with Middletown North last week when the Lions (13-2) had, perhaps, its poorest shooting effort of the season to date but came to life in the fourth quarter to outlast Manalapan, 46-39 and avenge its first loss of the season.
Manalapan had upset North, 56-54, on opening night, but the Lions have since won 13 in a row and have taken command of the A North Division race. (North fell again to Freehold, 69-54, on Monday night; a team the Lions beat by 36 points earlier in the year.)
Although its shooting was bad, North’s defense was in top form, limiting Manalapan to its lowest point total of the season,
“We were ice cold,” North coach Mike Iasparro admitted. “It was one of those nights offensively where we got good looks, but the shots just didn’t go down for us, but I thought that we got a great effort from our defense.”
A jumper by Manalapan’s Anthony Firkster tied the game at 35 with just six minutes remaining, but North finally took control of the game by rediscovering its scoring touch with 11 of the final 15 points of the game.
“In the second half, I thought that we got some offense off our defense and that helped us a lot,” said Iasparro.
Tim Frawley started the late run with a three-pointer and, after Manalapan’s Dave Issom dropped in a free throw, Cody Thompson drove in for a neat lay up. Jason Huelbig added two free throws and Eric Youncofski made one, and that settled the issue.
Huelbig, though, closed out the game in fitting fashion with a thunderous slam dunk following a steal.
Both teams had their problems on offense in the first in which the Braves held an 18-16 advantage
“I told them at halftime that, as long as we keep taking good shots and have no problem with them, they are going to fall,” said Iasparro. “We made a couple of big threes (in the fourth quarter) and that got us and the crowd back in the game and gave us momentum.”
There were three lead changes in the third quarter where North had a 26-25 edge entering the fourth period.
Manalapan then seemed to get control of the game when it scored six straight points, four by Firkster to go in front, 33-29, but back-to-back three pointers by Huelbig and Frawley put North back in the lead, 35-33.
Firkster tied the game with a short jumper in the lane, and then North began its late streak.