By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
WILDWOOD — The Ocean City boys basketball team spent most of Wednesday night trying to dig itself out of an early hole, but Millville was simply too athletic and held off a late charge by the Red Raiders to win, 66-61, and capture the championship of the Ray Martin Memorial bracket at the Boardwalk Classic in the Wildwood Convention Center.
The Red Raiders stayed within about 10 points throughout much of the game, and shaved the lead down to 56-50 on a turnaround jumper by Luke Varallo with 3:21 remaining, but the Thunderbolts were able to hang on thanks to a monster game from Rynell Lawrence, who finished with 26 points, 19 rebounds — including nine on the offensive end — three assists and three steals in more than 31 minutes. Issac Robertson gave Ocean City, which was playing without an injured Tom Jamison, a big lift with 10 points, four rebounds and two assists.
“We needed to get loose balls below the rim. Balls above the rim are tough for us because Millville has some high-risers. In the first half, I thought there were too many balls below the rim that we didn’t get, balls that go to the corner, or get knocked out to half court. We didn’t turn the ball over that much, but we didn’t rebound as well as we could have. But, I thought the whole week has been a positive experience. We come out of the break 4-2, and now we have a good little stepping stone for the rest of the season,” said Ocean City coach John Bruno. “You want to try to come out of the Christmas break at .500 or better, that’s what I’ve always felt. We were able to win two games before the break, and to win two games down here — we’re 4-2 and now it’s all about getting wins (for state playoff qualification). You want to get six or seven wins.”
Millville (5-1) started to open up a big lead late in the third quarter when Elijah Nichols nailed a 3-pointer and Lonnie Broome followed with a layup in transition to push the Thunderbolts’ lead to 46-30. But Ocean City responded with a three from Robertson to shave the deficit to 13 points, and consecutive threes from Varallo and Donovan Graham to start the fourth quarter brought Ocean City (4-2) to within 50-43. But the Red Raiders couldn’t get the deficit down to less than six points in the final three minutes to give themselves a chance in the waning seconds. Varallo finished with 21 points to lead Ocean City, while Donovan added 16 and Jacob McQuarrie chipped in with nine.
“Every team we have played has been very similar, very athletic, and we’ve hung tough with them. This game could have gone either way. I thought in the second half we played much more aggressive basketball. Robertson stepped up, Donovan Graham stepped up and played well. All of our guards handled the ball pretty well under pressure,” Bruno said. “Our two losses have been to two really good teams. I think they have just one loss between the two of them. Not having Tommy Jamison (out with a separated shoulder) hurt us in that our bench gets shorter, but Issac stepped up.”
Oakcrest 70, Wall Township 49: The Falcons (3-2) jumped out to a 16-6 first-quarter lead, then racked up 19 points in the second quarter and 26 more in the fourth to cruise to the title in the Dave Lewis Memorial bracket. Jaylen Busby nearly finished with a triple-double, as he scored a game-high 24 points while adding 14 rebounds and eight assists to go along with four steals. Steffron Watson added 16 points and six boards while Justin Busy chipped in with 10 points, three rebounds and two assists. Defensively, Oakcrest limited Wall (2-3) to just 26 percent shooting in the first half and 34 percent for the game, and forced 16 turnovers. The Falcons also scored 24 points off the fast break and had 16 second-chance points.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays