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VIDEO: Late first-half run leads Middle to win over LCM


ERMA – In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the Middle Township High School boys basketball team went from down by eight points to taking control of the game.

Down 20-12 early in the second quarter, the Panthers exploded for a 16-1 run to close the half en route to a 65-50 victory over rival Lower Cape May on Wednesday in the final game before Christmas for both teams.

It marked the third straight road victory to start the season against county competition for Middle, which beat Cape May Tech in its opener before rallying from 10 down to nip Wildwood Catholic earlier this week.

“These last three games, the kids have just stayed composed,” Middle coach LaMarr Greer said. “They stay stone faced and they keep playing. We know Lower’s a good team so it wasn’t a surprise to see them come out the way they did in the first quarter.”

Middle employed a three-quarter-court zone press that forced four turnovers and a bad shot on five straight possessions to kickstart its second-quarter run.

“We stayed the course and that three-quarter-court press helped us a lot,” Greer said. “It gave us a lot of momentum.”

Freshman Jamir McNeil scored 10 points in the period. He and teammate Gavin Aftanis combined for four points in the final two seconds of the half. McNeil scored a basket while being fouled, and Aftanis followed McNeil’s free-throw miss with a shot in the lane as the buzzer sounded.

Middle led 28-21 at the half after its eight-point deficit earlier in the quarter.

“They went and scored 20 points in about a four-minute span,” Lower coach Scott Holden said. “We went from being in control of the game to having zero control of it. It’s extremely disappointing.”

Middle swelled its lead to 41-27 in the third quarter before Lower scored seven straight points. But the Panthers surged again late in the period and went up by 12 at 48-36 when Anthony Trombetta hit a 22-foot three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer. It was Middle’s fourth three-pointer of the period.

McNeil finished with 22 points to lead Middle, scoring on a dizzying array of moves in the lane.

“He’s doing really good, especially for a freshman,” Greer said. “But he’s also coming from a program that has had a lot of great guards. He wants to be one of the best but that’s an every-night thing. Every night in practice, every night in the game, on the road, at home neutral site – it’s an every-night thing to be one of the best guards in this program.”

Sophomore Jermain McNeil added 11 points and Matt Barcas and Michael Zarfati each had nine for Middle, which made eight three-pointers in the game.

Middle (3-0) will compete in a three-game tournament at Southern Regional next week.

“We’re happy but now we have to prove it out of town,” Greer said. “These neighborhood games, we wanted to make a statement that we’re coming back, that we’re on our way back. Winning the neighborhood games means a lot to us, but we don’t want to be a neighborhood program. We want to be a statewide program. We take a lot of pride in that.”

Lower Cape May’s Archie Lawler scored a game-high 27 points, but shot just 10 for 31 from the field. Jacob Bey added 11.

Lower fell to 1-3 with the loss.

Middle has now won 19 straight games against Lower Cape May. Lower’s last win over Middle came in January 2010 when Ryan Herman hit a 35-foot three-point shot at the buzzer in a 48-45 Caper Tiger victory.