By Tim Morris
Colts Neck High School’s boys basketball team had plenty to be motivated about when the Cougars traveled to Wall High School Feb. 11.
With a road win, Colts Neck could clinch the Shore Conference B North Division outright. There was also the memory of a triple-overtime loss to the Crimson Knights the previous season that cost the Cougars the division title and was cause for Wall to celebrate on Colts Neck’s home court.
Playing like a team on a mission, the Cougars jumped out to a 35-11 lead at the half and coasted to the 66-35 victory that gave them another division championship. The victory extended their winning streak to nine games and their overall record to 16-3.
“We just hammered them; the kids really wanted it,” said Colts Neck head coach Lou Piccola, who noted that it was important to the Cougars that they win the division outright.
There are two things that stand out about the 2015-16 Cougars: their selfless team play and defense.
“They’re a very unselfish team,” Piccola said. “Our best player, Lloyd Daniels, is the most unselfish player in the Shore. He wants to make his teammates better.”
The defensive effort is fueled by the play of Jordan DeGroot and Kyle Gordon.
“They play the other team’s best player,” said Piccola, who added that in addition to his shutdown, man-to-man defense, Gordon provides the team with rebounds and steals.
DeGroot and Gordon are focal point of a defense that Piccola said looks to take the opposition’s top players out of the play and make it uncomfortable for them and for teams to run plays.
Many of the B North teams like to dribble-drive, and the fact that Gordon and DeGroot play good on-the-ball, man-to-man defense — always staying in front of their player, keeping them from driving to the basket — takes teams away from their first option.
These Cougars are also helped by having more size and athleticism that in recent years has been led by 6-foot-4 Tom O’Reilly and 6-foot-5 center Khalid Moustafa.
As the season has progressed, the Cougars have become a deeper team. Piccola remarked that the development of Brendan Clarke and Robby Hill has been major in giving the team more flexibility.
This is a far better and deeper Cougars squad than the one that started the season with a 57-54 loss at Long Branch High School.
After that loss to the Green Wave, Piccola told the Cougars that every game was a must win and they couldn’t afford a mistake.
The Cougars heeded his advice. They beat Long Branch in the rematch in the Cougar Den, 46-42, and finished one game up on the Green Wave with a 12-2 division record to Long Branch’s 11-3.
It’s now on to the postseason, where the Cougars take aim at more championships. Piccola is looking for his team to build on the division title.
The Shore Conference Tournament seedings came out Feb. 14, and the Cougars were seeded fifth and began play Feb. 16 against Central Regional High School.
If the Cougars won, they play again at home Feb. 18 in the next round against the winner of the Holmdel High School vs. Long Branch game. The quarterfinals are Feb. 21 at Brookdale Community College and the semifinals are Feb. 23 at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River. The Shore Conference Tournament finals are at Monmouth University in West Long Branch Feb. 27.
A North co-champion Freehold Township High School is the No. 9 seed and hosted Ocean Township High School Feb. 16. Marlboro was seeded 16th and drew No. 17-seed St. John Vianney High School.
Mater Dei Prep was given the No. 1 seed.
The seedings for the NJSIAA sectionals have come out, and Colts Neck is the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group IV. The sectional tournament begins March 1 with Colts Neck hosting No. 15-seed West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North.
The quarterfinals are scheduled for March 3, with the semi-finals taking place March 5 and finals March 7. All games are in the home gym of the highest-seeded team.
Defending champion Hunterdon Central Regional High School (17-3) is the No. 1 seed. Rounding out the top four seeds are South Brunswick High School (15-3) and Freehold Township (15-7) in the third and fourth spots.