By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Through the first few weeks of the season, Mainland Regional looked like a team that would riding the caboose in the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference. Now, as the calendar nears February, the Mustangs are beginning to look more and more like a state playoff team.
Mainland got a big, confidence-building win over Pleasantville on Friday night, outlasting the Greyhounds, 59-56, as former Mustang Sahmir Jones’ potential game-tying 3-pointer hit off the side of the rim as time expired. The victory put Mainland over the .500 mark at 8-7, and while it was a CAL nonconference game, it gave the Mustangs some much-needed power points. Pleasantville came in as a 9-win team, so it’s at least a 15-point victory in power points.
“They are talented at every spot, no doubt about it, they are one of the most athletic teams, and they’ve been winning a lot of games, so that will give us some good power points. That was game No. 15 for us, and we have Millville as our 16th game, and they are a fantastic team. We’ll take our chances against them, but I wouldn’t want to have to count on that to get a certain amount of power points to make it or get to a certain seed,” said Mainland coach Dan Williams. “We tried to slow it down. We saw some film on them against Cherry Hill East, which played a 2-3 zone. We typically don’t play a 2-3, but it looked like they really had a lot of success, so we thought we’d take a shot with it. If we had played man defense, like we like to, that game would have been in the 70s and I don’t think we win a game, like, 78-75. If we could keep them in the 50s or 60s, I felt like we had a shot. If it was more than 65, no way.”
It looked as though it would be a high scoring game early on, as both teams shot the ball well in the first quarter, including Mainland’s Cornelius Brozell, who nailed three 3-pointers and finished with five in the game to lead the Mustangs with 18 points.
“I had the hot hand tonight. Coach is always telling me to shoot the ball more, and I was just feeling it today,” he said. “I hit my first one, and just kept letting them go. After the first one, that got my adrenaline going, I hit another one and more adrenaline kept coming. I hit another one, and I was just feeling really confident after that.”
“He’s such a good player,” said junior point guard, who recently became eligible after sitting out the required 30 days because of his transfer from St. Augustine Prep. “When he does his thing, he brings it out of all of us. He leads all of us. When he gets going, he sparks all of us and we start doing our thing as a team.”
Divine Anderson and Sahmir Jones — who played his first two years at Mainland before transferring to Pleasantville last fall — combined for 22 first-half points as the Greyhounds took a 34-29 lead into the break. But a three-point play from Massari gave Mainland (8-7) a 43-40 lead late in the third quarter, and the Mustangs never trailed again. Pleasantville (9-5) had three possessions in the final minute, but one ended with a turnover and the other two with missed 3-pointers.
“It feels great. I had to sit 30 days and I had this energy I wanted to let out, and I’ve finally been able to let it out. It was tough (sitting out) but my coaches kept telling me to examine the game because eventually I would be out there, so I was just watching all the players and how things were going. That helped, I use that in every game, just trying to keep things cool and do my thing,” Massari said. “Our coaches were keeping us calm. We were coming off a tough loss to Ocean City, but that didn’t bother us. We kept playing strong.”
“This game was huge because we just played Ocean City and lost in overtime. It was a solid high school basketball game, an exciting game, and I wasn’t sure what these guys were going to be able to summon up after that, just two days later,” Williams added. “One thing I will say, they are a resilient bunch. Any time their backs are against the wall, they seem to respond.”
Brozell said this type of win shows how good the Mustangs can be.
“Everyone talked about how we weren’t going to be good this year. After this win, I don’t know how people are going to feel about us, but they should feel excited,” he said. “We put on a show for everyone out here. Hopefully, we can make the playoffs because we showed tonight that we can compete with anybody.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays