By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — The Mainland Regional boys basketball team rolled to an easy win over Pleasantville earlier this week in the Mustangs’ home opener, but Stangs head coach Dan Williams wasn’t happy with his team’s sloppy defensive performance.
On Thursday night, the Stangs were forced into Ocean City Intermediate School’s gym to take on the rival Red Raiders, as there was a maintenance problem at Ocean City High’s Dixie Howell Gymnasium. Williams used the backdrop as a metaphor to drive home the point to his players that they needed to get back to basics when it came to playing sound defensive basketball.
Williams was pleased not only with Thursday’s effort, but also the result — a convincing 62-33 win over Ocean City that makes Mainland the first Cape-Atlantic League team to reach eight wins. The defending league champion is now 8-1, the Stangs’ lone loss coming against Lenape during the holiday break.
“We played Pleasantville the other night and the effort was there but the fundamentals of defense were not there. We were leaking out, we were overplaying passing lanes to try to get out and get dunks, things like that,” Williams said. “We told them that if we play defense the right way and secure the ball first, you’ll still be able to get out in transition. And we had a couple more dunks than we did on Tuesday, so (seeing that) was a lot more fun. It starts with playing defense the right way and that generates our offense.”
After a low scoring first quarter, Mainland (8-1, 4-0 Cape-Atlantic League United) blitzed the Red Raiders with an 11-0 run that gave the Stangs a commanding 21-9 lead. The game was essentially over at that point, and the Stangs drove that point home right from the jump of the second half, as Tim Travagline nailed the second of his four 3-pointers to push the lead out to 31-15. Mainland outscored Ocean City (3-5, 3-2 CAL National) 20-10 in the second half, and did so in a variety of ways. There were threes from Travagline and Stephen Ordille, inside buckets from Jamie Tyson and Mawali Osunniyi, and layups and dunks in transition from star junior forward Cohen Cook. Travagline finished with a game-high 24 points while Cook added 19.
“Besides just the defense, threes are killers,” Williams said. “Timmy hit a couple in the third quarter alone, which were huge. Once you hit those and (defenders) start directing their focus toward the guy who is hitting them, then you have a guy like Cohen getting out in transition — and when he’s one-on-one in transition he’s almost unstoppable. It was us clicking on all cylinders without really having to run offense.”
“This was great. In the second quarter, we know this is a shooter’s gym, so we just started shooting with confidence,” Travagline said. “I needed those. I’ve been in a little bit of a slump lately, so that really helped my confidence.”
Part of Mainland’s dominance was a 9-0 run in the second quarter in the span of just two minutes. It coincided with Ocean City guard Sean Sakers leaving the game with an injury, an all-too-common theme for the Red Raiders, who were once again without starting center Andrew Karayiannis.
“We were fortunate to catch Ocean City at the time we did. They are nursing some injuries, and as we saw Sakers went down for a little while, so they are not at full strength,” Williams said. “They’re not the team they were at the beginning of the season, but as soon as they get healthy, with what (coach John Bruno) does with them, they’ll be clicking on all cylinders, too. But, we don’t play them again, which is good news.”
As good as the second quarter was for Mainland, the third was even better, as the Stangs outscored Ocean City 20-6. That run featured three 3-pointers from Travagline, a steal and dunk by Tyson and a slam from Cook that stretched the lead all the way out to 46-19.
“The biggest things for us were we wanted to start getting back to playing defense the right way, and we also talked about how it was our first home game the other day and these guys love playing in front of the home crowd, but their minds got racing a little bit and we sort of lost them there for a little while. We talked about how you have to maintain your composure because — hopefully, if we’re doing what we need to do — there will potentially be some other big games this year,” Williams said. “We’re not a team that can lose our minds and think we can walk out on the court and do some crazy stuff and be in a big game. We have to play every possession the right way to give ourselves a chance in those big games.”
One of those big games happens on Saturday night at Holy Spirit High, as Mainland takes on perennial North Jersey power Elizabeth at the Seagull Classic.
“This was a great team win, but we just have to win and move forward. We have a big game coming up this weekend in the Seagull Classic, so we’ll be ready for that,” Travagline said. “We just wanted to keep getting looks for each other and keep playing for each other. If we can keep doing that, things will work out. We’re coming into every game with high confidence.”
What’s Next: Mainland vs. Elizabeth at Holy Spirit, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. as part of the Seagull Classic. Ocean City vs. Southern Regional at Holy Spirit, Sunday, 11 a.m. as part of the Seagull Classic.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays