The Howell High School and Jackson Liberty High School boys’ basketball teams are both in similar situations to start the season.
Each team came into the 2019-2020 season with both their top two scorers from last year gone due to graduation and looking for new faces to step up into key roles this winter.
Both teams also came into their first round matchup against one another on Dec. 23 at the Score at the Shore Tournament that was held at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin in search of their first victory of the season.
A career day by senior Chris Acampora helped the Rebels come out with their first victory of the season. He sparked Howell to a 58-35 victory over Jackson Liberty.
“Getting a win over a good program like Jackson Liberty is always good,” said Howell coach Patrick Ramsay, whose team moved to 1-1 on the year with the victory. “The first win is always the toughest. A lot of our kids played last year, but didn’t have to do much. Anytime you win it gives the kids confidence that they can compete against good teams.”
With the loss, Jackson Liberty dropped to 0-2 to begin the season, losing by a count of 55-46 to Point Pleasant Borough High School in its opener on Dec. 20.
Third-year coach Mike Antenucci believes these tough hurdles to start the season with be building blocks for his young Jackson Liberty squad to grow as the season goes on.
“It’s a learning experience and a chance to build on some things,” Antenucci said. We’re an inexperienced varsity basketball team. We’re taking small steps to get better.”
Acampora was a three-point machine in the first half for Howell. The senior knocked down four shots from downtown in the half, his last two three-pointers coming in the last two minutes of the first half to give him 12 points and help Howell go into the half with a 29-19 lead.
To help Howell get out to a 9-1 surge in the third quarter, Acampora used his passing to help the Rebels grow its lead to 38-20.
The senior whisked a perfect pass to fellow classmate Cooper Vogel, who turned around to knock in the jump shot to give him 12 points in the contest for Howell.
Acampora put a fitting end to his career day with a seven-point fourth quarter. A nice pump fake and dash to the rim for two helped put Howell on a 10-2 burst and out to a 53-29 lead with 5:15 left to play.
His last shot of the game came from three-point land to give Howell a 58-32 lead, knocking down his fifth three-pointer of the contest to give him a game-high 19 points with 1:30 left to play.
“It was pretty special,” Acampora said. “My teammates were driving and kicking the ball out to me when I was open. I was able to knock some down and get into a rhythm. It was an all-round pretty good team performance.”
Sophomore Abdull Al-Shrouf had a huge second half for the Rebels, scoring nine of his 15 points to help Howell win its first contest of the season. Howell knocked down nine three-pointers in the contest.
Howell played Lenape High School in the second round of the tournament on Dec. 27.
“We have kids that can share the ball and make the extra pass,” Ramsay said. “This group of kids play well together. They played a lot together in the offseason. Any one of the kids can lead the team in scoring in any game.
Sophomore Phanique Dupree scored a team-high nine points for Jackson Liberty. Senior Manny Clay finished with eight points for the Lions in the loss.
Jackson Liberty met Asbury Park High School in its next contest on Dec. 27
“We lost 100% of our offense from last season, so that’s tough to make up to start the season,” Antenucci said. “I think if we continue to improve and play the way we’re capable of, we’ll be in the mix for our division by the end of the season.”
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports