By Tim Morris
The 2015-16 men’s basketball season has come down to the stretch run for Brookdale Community College.
A regular-season championship and positioning for the Region 19 tournament will be decided in the next two weeks, and Brookdale head coach Paul Cisek has the Jersey Blues in the thick of everything.
“So far, so good,” he said. “We’re getting better.
“The league is really jammed. It’s going to be interesting. We need to get victories.”
The Jersey Blues got one when they scored a huge win at home Jan. 26 against Rowan College of Gloucester County, 72-66. The two clubs are vying with the County College of Philadelphia for first place and the top seed in Region 19 and among themselves for first in the Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC).
Sophomore Mason Jones (Manchester) had 17 points and dished out eight assists, while the front-court duo of Dillon Salva (Bishop Ahr) and Jordan Little (Perth Amboy Tech) had double-doubles with 12 points and 11 rebounds each in the victory.
The win gave the Jersey Blues (16-5) a 12-5 record in region play, which is one game behind County College of Philadelphia (13-4) and a half-game ahead of Rowan College (11-5). In GSAC play, Brookdale is 11-5 and Rowan College is 8-4.
With a club that has 10 freshman — most playing key roles — getting into February with so much in play is a tribute to the talent that Cisek has brought to Lincroft. It’s also a sign that the team is peaking.
“The key will be defense,” Cisek said of Brookdale’s outlook for the rest of the season. “We’re not playing as well as defenses I’ve had here in the past.
“We’ve got size and rebound well.”
Because of their size, the Jersey Blues are playing more zone than Cisek likes, mixing 2-3 and 1-2-2 zones in with man-to-man and traps. The good news is that as the freshmen gain more experience playing together, the defense is beginning to gel. Holding Rowan College to 66 points was a positive.
The offense is averaging more than 80 points a games. The Jersey Blues have taken advantage of their front court to get the ball to 6-foot-9 freshman Little and 6-foot-6 sophomore Salva. They’ve been terrors on the offensive glass creating second and third chances. They are averaging more than 21 rebounds a game, led by Little’s 11.9 per game.
Their play opens the outside game for guards like Jones, who is leading the team in scoring at 18.6 points per game. He is followed by Salva (15) and Little (14.2). Skye Harris (Cardinal McCarrick) is also averaging double figures (11).
Freshman Kerry Kirkwood (Neptune) is the only pure point guard on the team and his play is critical to a Brookdale team that wants to play at its tempo.
Early in the season, Brookdale dropped some close games because it didn’t control game-ending situations. That has changed behind Kirkwood.
“[Kirkwood is] controlling the tempo, and he knows where to distribute the ball,” Cisek said.
Sophomore Terrel Cox (Long Branch) has been sharing the point guard position with Kirkwood.
The contributions from freshmen Aidan McMenaman (Manasquan), Aaron Trimble (Howell), Will Kocsis (Howell) and Dante Whipple (Old Bridge) have increased as they gained more experience playing at the college level.
During the season, Brookdale took a trip to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where they played back-to-back games against Holyoke Community College and the University of Connecticut at Avery Point. The two wins were nice, but Cisek was also looking for something else.
“We were hoping it would become a bonding tool because we’re very young,” he said.
It appears to have worked, as the Jersey Blues have become a more cohesive team.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, the top priority for Cisek is getting a top-four seed for the Region 19 tournament. That would guarantee home-court advantage until the semifinals and finals, which are on a neutral floor (Feb. 27-28 at Northampton, Pennsylvania, this year).
“You always want the home court; it’s an advantage to get to the final four,” Cisek said.
Brookdale’s final regular-season home game in the Collins Arena, where it lost just once all year, is Feb. 13 against Mercer County Community College.