By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — Lower Cape May Regional High School boys basketball coach Scott Holden made a rather bold statement about the team’s freshman guard, Martin Anguelov.
“He’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen at his age,” the coach said.
Anguelov’s talent in that area was on full display in Saturday’s South Jersey Group II semifinal game.
The 5-9 freshman knocked down 6 of 10 three-point shots, three of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime, as the Caper Tigers rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to secure a wild 59-44 overtime win over Barnegat in front of a near-sellout crowd in Lower’s gym.
The victory sends Lower Cape May (21-7) into its first South Jersey title game since 1988. Lower, the fifth seed in the tournament, will play No. 2 Haddonfield at 7 p.m. Monday at Cherry Hill East High School.
Barnegat opened its largest lead at 24-12 with 4:45 left in the first half. But Lower edged closer by going on a 13-6 surge to end the half, capped by Anguelov’s buzzer-beating three-pointer.
Anguelov later made three-pointers on consecutive possessions early in the fourth quarter to complete Lower’s stunning comeback, the second giving the Tigers their first lead of the game at 40-39. Barnegat retook the lead on Brian Finucan’s basket with 3:05 to play — the Bengals’ only field goal of the fourth quarter and overtime — and got three foul shots from Carson Francisco to go ahead, 44-40, with 1:40 left.
Anguelov responded with an 17-foot jumper with 1:11 left. Then, after a Barnegat turnover, Khamar Matthews tied the game on a layup off an offensive rebound of a Patrick Holden miss with two seconds to play.
The basket was sweet redemption for Matthews, who had missed two layups earlier in the period.
“He came over during one of the timeouts really dejected, but I told him to keep being aggressive and take those shots if they come, and darn if he doesn’t get that basket and it sends us to overtime and obviously we go on to win the game,” Scott Holden said.
After Barnegat failed to score on the first possession of overtime, Anguelov opened the scoring with his final three-pointer of the game. Patrick Holden then converted another from that distance moments later and Anguelov, Patrick Holden and Justin Candeleria combined to make 9 of 10 free throws.
Barnegat did not score in overtime. After holding a 30-25 lead at the half, the Bengals (22-7) managed only 14 points after the break, just five after the third quarter.
Barnegat endured an unfortunate break when starting point guard Mike Revello suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. He tried to briefly return but was severely limited.
“I didn’t think we shot well in the first half and (Barnegat) did,” Scott Holden said. “I told the kids at halftime that if could keep them under 52 that I thought we’d have a good chance to win. We really buckled down defensively. We went more man-to-man. I thought Revello going out really hurt them, too. You can’t diminish that factor.”
Anguelov and Holden each netted 24 points for Lower Cape May. Matthews added nine.
Holden carried Lower in the third period, scoring all nine of the Tigers’ points. Then Anguelov took center stage in the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 15 in those 12 minutes. And, of course, the game doesn’t go to overtime without the buzzer-beating layup by Matthews.
Francisco scored 14 points for Barnegat.
Lower is considered to be a healthy underdog against powerful Haddonfield for Monday’s sectional final. But after three home state playoff wins, the Tigers are more than happy to take the bus ride and give it their best shot against the Bulldawgs.
“This has been so much fun,” Scott Holden said. “This team, we have maybe two guys that play basketball year round, so to go to our first South Jersey final in 30 years, this is really something. We have guys that play soccer, football and other sports, but they’re so coachable. They love their roles and they play their roles very well. I am so happy with this group.”