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Monmouth Regional rallies to top Freehold in 2021-22 season opener

Monmouth Regional High School boys basketball player Brandon Ligon drives all the way to the basket for a layup during the team's season opener against Freehold on Dec. 17 in Freehold. Monmouth Regional defeated Freehold by the score of 61-49.

Having fans back in the gym this season is an atmosphere Monmouth Regional High School boys basketball coach Jeff Sfraga knows his players are excited to experience again.

The 2020-21 high school campaign was significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and teams throughout the Shore Conference and the state are hoping for a return to normalcy in 2021-22.

The Falcons were a little jittery initially as they played in front of a packed crowd at Freehold High School in Freehold Borough on Dec. 17 in their season opener, but they started to feed off the fans’ energy as the game went on.

Monmouth Regional rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to defeat the Colonials, 61-49.

“It’s always great to start the season with a win,” Sfraga said. “Winning a varsity basketball game is tough no matter who you are playing. I’m so happy for the guys.”

Three-point field goals were a big factor as the Falcons came out to start the third quarter trailing 24-19. Senior Kevin Telesford hit two three-pointers to tie the score at 26-26.

Telesford scored eight points in a 13-3 run that helped the Falcons grab a 32-27 lead over the Colonials.

Senior Aiden Denton continued the team’s hot shooting from behind the arc by knocking down three three-point field goals to finish the quarter. His three-pointer at the buzzer gave the Falcons a 44-37 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“We really settled in there during the third quarter,” Denton said. “Me and Kevin (Telesford) have a lot of experience and we tried helping the rest of the team figure things out. We just have to play together as a team. If we do that, I don’t think we can be stopped.”

Denton hit his fourth three-pointer to begin the fourth quarter to give the Falcons a 47-37 lead.

The senior duo of Denton and Telesford combined for seven of the eight three-point field goals Monmouth Regional’s cagers hit against Freehold.

It was a splendid second half for Denton, who scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the third and fourth quarters.

“I stopped thinking and started playing basketball,” Denton said. “I let all my hard work take over.”

Junior forward Tahaj Wiggins paced the Falcons the rest of the way with strong play in the frontcourt. Wiggins scored six of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and also had 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the contest.

Following a Freehold turnover, Tahaj’s brother, Gerald, fed him with a pass that led to a layup to make the score 51-42 with 2:52 to play. Tahaj scored again with 1:29 to play for a 56-44 lead.

 

It was a strong opening night performance for Tahaj, who Sfraga believes can accomplish big things this season.

“This was a good start to the season,” Wiggins said. “There’s more to come.”

Telesford finished with 15 points as the Falcons put three players in double figures. Senior guard Brandon Ligon added five points in the victory.

After watching the Falcons outscore the Colonials 42-25 in the second half, Sfraga said he felt the impressive display by his team in the final 16 minutes showed why Monmouth Regional can be a force in the Shore Conference C North Division and in the conference.

“I am so proud of this group for the way they fought back after the first half,” the coach said. “I can’t wait to see where we go this year. The sky’s the limit for us.”

Monmouth Regional will play C North rival Manasquan on Dec. 21.

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