By Tim Morris
There’s a reason that Colts Neck High School’s boys basketball coach Lou Piccola stresses defense first. It’s a proven winner and the reason his club is again in the hunt for a division title.
As the division schedule makes the turnaround and heads for the back nine games, the Cougars (8-3 overall) are 5-2 in Shore Conference B North Division play and one game back in the loss column to Long Branch High School, which is 7-1 in B North and 10-3 overall. They can credit it to their play on the defensive end. Only two teams have scored more than 50 points on the Cougars, and one was a double-overtime win over defending Shore Conference champion Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, 60-57, in the finals of the Bulldog Classic. The game was tied at 47 in regulation.
“One thing that has to be constant is defense,” Piccola said. “We at times have played good half-court defense.”
The Cougars have done it by adjusting to their opponent.
“We’ve taken teams’ best one and two players and taken them out of the game and not let them beat us,” he said.
When the Cougars have played a more athletic team that likes to penetrate and kick the ball out to its 3-point shooters, they’ve packed there defense to prevent the penetration and gotten help defense on the shooters.
One of the team’s best wins was the 58-37 drubbing of Neptune High School, which is a team that likes to run. The Cougars slowed the Scarlet Fliers to a crawl.
“We played tough defense, controlled the boards and were selective offensively,” Piccola said of that road win.
This could be a big week for the Cougars, who are tentatively scheduled to play Long Branch Jan. 30. The teams were scheduled to play in Colts Neck Jan. 22, but that game was postponed by the blizzard with the tentative date for Jan. 30. With a win, the Cougars could catch the Green Wave in the loss column.
The Green Wave edged the Cougars, 57-54, in the season opener for both teams.
Prior to the Long Branch game, Colts Neck was at Ocean Township High School Jan. 26 and home to Neptune Jan. 28.
Senior Lloyd Daniels, who is averaging a team-high 17 points, has been doing it on both ends of the floor and stepping up while providing senior leadership on what is a veteran Cougars team. The 6-foot-3 Daniels is one of the most complete players in the Shore and a dependable go-to player.
Tom O’Reilly, another senior, is averaging 10 points and is playing well on both ends of the floor as well.
O’Reilly, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, 6-foot-5 center Khalid Moustafa and 6-foot-2 Kyle Gordon give the Cougars more size up front than recent years and a reason they can control the backboards.
Seniors Jordan DeGroot, Tom Cavrak and Brandon Yutko make this a very experienced team, which may explain why the Cougars have played well on the road as well as at home.
Brendan Clarke, Ronnie Anderson, Chris Aquinas, Brandon Danis and Robby Hill provide a deep bench, which the team will need with make-up games on the schedule.
Over in the A North Division, Freehold Township High School (9-5) continues to lead the way for the public school title with a 5-2 record. The Patriots are followed by surging Marlboro High School (8-5) and Middletown High School North (8-5), who are 5-3. Surprising Howell High School (7-8) is 4-4.