KEY PORT — A year ago, a one-off course at Keyport propelled the Red Raiders boys’ basketball team to the top of the program’s first NJSIAA section championship in 18 years.
While Keyport narrowly – and painfully – won the long-awaited follow-up championship to the 2003-04 Central Jersey Group I title, the legacy of the Class of 2022 could be its success in establishing a new bar for a program that is once again becoming a contender in 2023 developed for state tournaments.
On Tuesday night, Keyport put on an impressive performance at his home gym with his 67-59 win over Point Pleasant Beach, putting the Red Raiders in a tie in the Shore Conference Class B Central Division race and serving as a reminder Keyport will be back in late February remain a player in Central Jersey Group I.
Junior Mike Ford – one of three new starters for Keyport this season, who played at the junior varsity level last season – scored 16 of his playing 24 first-half points to spark an awakening for the Red Raiders after they quickly fell were into a 23-7 hole during the first quarter.
“We had the positive matchup with (Ford),” said Recco. “We wanted to give him the ball. They really couldn’t keep him up front, so that was the mismatch. We said ‘Bring the ball to Mike’ and we put up screens for him to give him chances. He gained weight today. It was an impressive performance.”
Point Beach led 28-13 and 33-19 in the second quarter before capping the first half with a transition basket from freshman Jacob Edgecomb that gave the visitors a 38-26 lead at the break.
“They shot very well and we didn’t,” Recco said. “I knew we could turn it on. We just had to stay in and get out. The tempo started picking up and we play better with the up and down tempo and I kind of let them go in the second quarter.”
By the end of the third quarter, Keyport had rallied to level the game, triggering Ford and seniors Max Judson and Terrek Mimes. Both Judson and Mimes — starters at various points for Keyport a season ago and key contributors during the 2021-22 season — finished with 18 points and double-digit rebounds, with Judson scoring 10 of his points in Keyport’s 18-6 run the length of the season third quarter. Mimes, meanwhile, ended the game with a drive to the basket a minute from time – the only time the game was a draw, other than 0-0.
Early in the fourth quarter, Ford gave Keyport’s first lead since going 1-0 with another basket. When Judson threw in a short jumper six minutes from time, Keyport had completed a 12-0 run that put the Red Raiders 54-46 ahead.
The Red Raiders turned a 12-point halftime deficit into a 12-point lead, 61-49, with three minutes remaining. However, Point Beach made one last effort that cut Keyport’s 1:30 lead to 61:59 – a 10-0 run for the Garnet Gulls in a 1:30 margin.
Point Beach had a chance to tie the game on his next possession, but Keyport was stopped with a wandering call in lane. From there, the Red Raiders took 6 of 7 free throws to end the game.
Senior Kevin Burns led Point Beach with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Edgecomb added 11 points to the loss. Burns, who opened the season with consecutive triple-doubles, replenished the stats Tuesday, but Keyport kept him calmer in the second half, successfully denying him the ball and forcing him to give up much of the possession early on. Burns went into halftime with 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
“He’s phenomenal,” Recco said of Burns. “We said if he gives it up we don’t want him to get it back. He’s going to give it up eventually, and if he does, we don’t want him to get it back. We took turns with him: Mike (Ford) was on him, Terrek had some possession on him, (sophomore) Andrei (Matthews) came off the bench and looked at him differently. It was a team effort for him.
Point Beach defeated Keyport, 44-41, on January 5 at Point Pleasant, and barring an upset loss by either team, the two rivals are trending toward a Central Class B co-championship. After winning the Public Division championship In 2021-22, a co-title would be a notable continuation for Keyport, especially given the absence of 6ft 9 sophomore star Nas Hart.
Hart suffered a hip flexor injury in Keyport’s second game of the season – a nine-point loss to Monmouth Regional – and has not played since. Even without the 6-9 game changer, Keyport’s only other loss in addition to losses to Monmouth and Keyport to St. Rose was the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network top 10 and currently the No. 12 team in the state.
“We’re fighting our way through,” said Recco. “Other guys get time and good experiences. We made it to the section finals last year so we have that experience. We’re right there with every other team in Central Jersey Group I. If we can get Nas back healthy, we’ve got something.”
Keyport and Point Beach are two of six teams topping the current Power Points standings in Central Jersey Group I, the yardstick that will set seedings for the CJ I playoffs in the final week of February. There’s still some room for Keyport to earn a top spot, and with Hart returning to a team that can manage without him, the Red Raiders are beginning to think they can finish the job the Class of 2022 started .
Things people google about NJ all the time
“Why is New Jersey…?”
That’s what folks are looking for in the Garden State.