Cougars top Allentown, 57-45, for first victory of 2021-22 hoop campaign


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Home cooking was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Colts Neck High School boys basketball team on Dec. 22 against visiting Allentown High School.

Coming off a season opening loss to Manasquan in the first round of the WOBM Christmas Classic, the Cougars bounced back in their home opener against the Redbirds to claim their first win of the 2021-22 season.

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A strong performance in the second half by the Cougars led them to a 57-45 victory over Allentown in front of their hometown fans.

“It was a big win for our guys,” Coach Lou Piccola said. “Most of them played at the junior varsity or freshman level last year. This is all new to them. We were able to slow the pace down and continue to play through our system in the second half. We stopped turning the ball over. It was nice to see that.”

Colts Neck came out ready to roll against Allentown and used a fullcourt press to force turnovers. The Cougars led 12-2 after four minutes, but the Redbirds responded with a 15-2 run over the final four minutes to take a 17-14 lead into the second quarter.

Colts Neck kept pace with the Redbirds in the second quarter and trailed 26-25 at halftime.

During the break, Piccola gave his players a “fiery speech,” as junior forward Tyler Spencer later explained what transpired in the locker room, and the Cougars responded with a strong performance over the final two quarters.

Spencer and junior Will Surdez led the response. Each player scored four points to help the Cougars begin the third quarter with a 10-2 run that produced a 35-28 lead.

Surdez scored six points and added several assists in the third quarter as Colts Neck took a 43-33 lead into the fourth quarter.

“Composure was the No. 1 thing,” Surdez said about the team’s effort coming out of halftime. “We had to slow things down and do what we do best. We are a pass and move offense. We don’t shoot after one pass. We have to get everyone involved and work for the best look.”

Surdez finished with 12 points. As the only starter returning from 2020-21, Surdez has made it a point during the early stages of the new season to get everyone on the team involved in practice.

Most importantly, he has made sure everyone knows they are no different than anyone else on the squad and that they are all varsity players.

“No one treats anyone like they have never been on varsity,” Surdez said. “We treat each other as varsity players. It gives everyone more confidence. It shows everyone I have trust in them and that everyone on the team has trust in each other.”

Colts Neck went on a 7-1 run to begin the fourth quarter. Junior Eric Lavin sparked the Cougars by stealing the ball and passing to Spencer, who converted a layup for a 50-34 lead.

The layup capped Spencer’s game-high 15-point performance. He later said he was proud of his performance and the fact he was able to help the Cougars win their first game.

“It feels awesome,” Spencer said. “We worked hard all week to get this win. We just have to keep getting 1% better each day.”

An assist from Surdez on a layup by senior Spencer Bernstein with under 3:00 to play put the Cougars up 54-38. Colts Neck was able to ride out the game from there to improve to 1-1.

Bernstein scored 10 points and senior Henry Shell added eight points for Colts Neck.

The Cougars will play two consolation games during the holiday break in the WOBM Christmas Classic, starting with a game against Wall High School on Dec. 26.

Piccola said the team’s victory over Allentown will give his players confidence as they prepare to face Wall.

The message from Piccola and his assistant coaches to the players has been to work on getting a little bit better every day.

The Cougars showed improvement against Allentown and believe that type of effort can be the start to a winning campaign.

“I think we can really go on a run this year,” Surdez said. “Not many teams know who we are yet. Once they see our toughness, the way we play and the great connections we have on the court, they will start to notice us.”

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