By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Teams such as St. Augustine Prep, Atlantic City and Wildwood Catholic might have some competition this season from a surprising source. Mainland Regional has gotten off to a 3-0 start, and has a matchup nightmare in senior Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-9 center who can not only block shots and rebound, but also score.
Osunniyi put on a show Wednesday night in the Mustangs’ 72-41 win over visiting Absegami, racking up a game-high 23 points while adding 15 rebounds and an eye-popping 15 blocks. Osunniyi’s triple-double was much more than the Braves had an answer for, as Mainland jumped out to an 18-10 first-quarter lead before blitzing Absegami with a 20-point second quarter to push its lead to 38-19 by halftime.
“I’m just a rim protector. I just stay in the lane, block shots and run the floor. That’s all I do,” Osunniyi said. “We feel like we’ll be a big threat in the conference this year. We take all our games seriously, and coach tells us to have killer mentality, so we play the game really hard.”
“He had a really good summer. For the first time he played AAU and went to an elite camp at Albright College. He came back and said, ‘there were blue-chip, Division I players that were at this thing, and I was actually in the game and competing with them. I wasn’t out of my realm entirely.’ He’s so new to the game. He played in eighth grade just because he was kind of tall at 6-foot-1, then he shot up to what he is now. He didn’t even start on the freshman team, but he’s filled out and become comfortable with his body,” said Mainland coach Dan Williams. “There’s no teaching the timing of blocking shots, he just has a knack for it. You can either do it or you can’t, I don’t know. I know nothing about blocking shots.”
Guard Brandon Savitch added 20 points for Mainland, including a pair of 3-pointers, and sophomore Sahmir Jones chipped in with 15, most of which came in the third quarter as he displayed some of his athleticism getting to the rim.
“(Osun) carried us in the first quarter and Brandon had a great second quarter. If we’re going to be any good this year, those three guys — Brandon, Osun and Shamir — they have to carry us,” Williams said. “Shamir is deceptively athletic. He ended up quarterbacking a few games (in football) this year, and he hadn’t played in a few years. He’s really tough in transition.”
The Mustangs (3-0) also got some key contributions from some football stars, guys such as Dalton Raring and Jack Bergman, who played solid defense. They’re also guys who don’t mind using up their fouls to discourage opponents from driving the lane.
“We love it. One of our guys had four fouls, so they use them up,” Osunniyi said. “They bring intensity. That helps us when we are on the bench and then we come back and help them out.”
“The guys I played with once upon a time, when they come back and watch, those are their favorite guys. The love watching football guys who actually bring football to the basketball court — diving, taking charges, setting screens,” Williams said. “Guys just don’t set screens anymore, but those guys do that. It’s a good mix.”
Brian Townsel and Da’je Iannuzzio combined to score 21 points for Absegami (0-2), but the Braves found themselves down by 28 points by the end of the third quarter. Osunniyi said he’s just trying to do whatever he can to help his team win, and if that means parking himself in the paint and blocking shots, he’s certainly willing to do just that.
“I’m just trying to be a leader because after this season, I’m gone. So, I’m trying to give (the younger players) some experience so that when I’m gone they can pick up right where I left off,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence. We know we can do a lot of damage this year, we’re just working hard every day.”
Williams said it would be premature to think lopsided wins will continue, especially once the conference season gets into full swing in January. But, for now, the Mustangs are enjoying their hot start.
“Everyone is feeling good now, but we also have to balance that. It’s only three games. We have 24 more regular-season games,” Williams said. “We’ve just scratched the surface of the conference yet. We haven’t seen Ocean City yet and the played well against Atlantic City; we haven’t seen Holy Spirit yet, and I know they might not have the talent of old, but they’re always going to be good. They have hard-working kids who know the game and they have a good coach. But if we can keep this balance, it should be fun.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN