Lincroft, NJ - Undefeated Brookdale ran its season-long winning streak to 27 games with an easy 106-64 thumping of conference rival Ocean County Community College Thursday at Collins Arena.
Brookdale – ranked No. 1 nationally in the most recent NJCAA DIII Top 10 poll – held a slim one-point margin, 9-8, a little over five minutes into the game. They then went on a 19-0 run to push its lead to 28-8 with 8:04 left in the first half after holding Ocean County scoreless for close to seven minutes.
Freshman guard Fres Cabrera dropped six points during the spurt to lead the Jersey Blues finishing with eight points in the first half.
With the Jersey Blues holding 32-12 advantage at the 5:39 mark of the first half, sophomore guard Jordan Hernandez caught fire scoring 12 of the Blues final 17 points of the half including two three's and the final seven points to give Brookdale a 47-24 lead at the intermission.
Matt Ringel dominated underneath in the paint grabbing seven boards including four offensive rebounds in the first half. The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward added a blocked shot and a steal along with four points to lead the defensive effort.
"We're playing great," said Ringel, a former Marlboro High School standout. "We work hard in practice and it shows on the court – we're 27-0. The best opponent we've played all year is ourselves in practice."
Long-time Brookdale head coach Paul Cisek was impressed with his big man's effort Thursday night.
"Matt's our anchor," Cisek said. "He's a little older, he's big and he's a leader. He's not a boisterous leader; he's a leader that just does everything I ask him to do. Every single day he does what he's supposed to do and leads by example. He does a lot of hard work. He blocks shots, he rebounds and he's physical and strong. He's getting a lot of looks from DII college coaches."
Brookdale's leading scorer, 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Jaimik Moore (21.7 pts/game), was held to just five first-half points shooting 2-of-6 from the field but chipped in with four first-half assists, a steal and a rebound before igniting Brookdale's second-half eruption with three three-pointers in the first six minutes of the second half.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard added a bucket to finish his night with 16 points before being pulled with almost 11:00 left in the game and Brookdale up by a whopping 37-point margin, 76-39. He added three more rebounds and an assists in the second half finishing the night with seven assists, four rebounds and a steal.
"Let's be honest, he's hobbling," said Cisek of his star guard. "His legs are bothering him a little bit so he's not as quick as he's been in the beginning of the year. But he's just a great scorer and shooter and distributes the ball well getting people involved like he did tonight."
Cisek began emptying his bench early in the the second half as the lead swelled to as high as 47 points in the half.
"We're fortunate. We have some guys on the bench that are very talented," said Cisek. "It's tough on them because we have eight very good sophomores and we play very deep on the sophomore side. We try to get freshman playing time but sometimes it's not easy and most of those guys are going to be back next year so we need those guys to accept their roles – it can be a hard thing for someone who's used to playing all the time in high school."
Freshman Anthony McNeil took advantage of the increased playing time dominating the last 10:00 of the game. The 6-foot-2 guard exploded for 15 second-half points taking over the game at both ends of the court. Besides his scoring outburst McNeil added six rebounds, two assists, four steals and a blocked shot – all in the second half.
"Anthony's out of Asbury Park High School and has been playing very well," said Cisek. He's another guy who will be a key factor for us next year. Playing against some of our sophomores you can see he can really play – he's got talent and he's a good kid."
Cabrera added four points in limited second-half action finishing with 16 points, three boards, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot while freshman Stefan Forbes chipped in with seven second-half points.
Guard Tarique Holmes led the team with a game-high eight assists along with three boards, two steals and seven points while freshman guard Kenneth LaRocca (Marlboro High School) contributed seven points, three rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Former Manasquan High School standout Kyle Bradshaw started and finished with 10 points, two rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot. One-time St. John Vianney star Grant Goode, who normally is in the starting lineup, sat out the game with the flu, but according to Cisek should be available for Saturday's game.
"We played within our system and stayed with what we do tonight," Cisek said. "I thought we did a pretty good job with that. Sometimes we can get a little bit out of control, we didn't tonight. We did what we should do."
The Blues have one remaining regular-season game remaining this Saturday when they travel to Northampton (21-5, 17-3). If they win as expected, they'll close out the regular season undefeated entering the NJCAA Region XIX Tournament. They'll undoubtedly be awarded the No. 1 seed as the top-ranked team in the country and will enter the tournament the odds-on favorite to take the title and advance to the national tournament.
So for them to capture the programs second ever national championship they'll have to finish out the season undefeated - which would be a program first.
Brookdale's first-and-only national championship came in 2013 when they finished the season 33-1 with their only loss coming in their final game of the regular season.
"We were here before with the team that won the national title and that team lost to Morris the last game of the year and it probably was a wakeup call," said Cisek about entering the tournament undefeated. "This team doesn't need wakeup calls - they play at a really high level, but it's do-or-die in the playoffs and anything can happen.
"I break the season down in thirds, Cisek added. "The first part is over, that's done on Saturday. Then the second chapter is the regions and if you lose your out, so hopefully we get to the third chapter which is the nationals tournament. The only thing winning Saturday does for us is the seeding for the national tournament. So if we're lucky enough to get there we'll be the No. 1 seed which allows us to play the weaker team in the first round. But the whole problem is we have to put Saturday first and play at a high level against a very good team – it's not going to be a cake walk from here on in. The day's of winning by 40 points is over."
Photo Courtesy of Trish Taylor