Spinella, Kates lead Cougars over CBA

Defensive intensity is the difference

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Thirty-twominutes of will. That’s how Stephen Spinella described Colts Neck’s 56-47 win over Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) Thursday.

Colts Neck's Mitchell Kates (r) goes for the block against CBA's Mike Kuhn during their game in Colts Neck on Dec. 20, which was won by Colts Neck, 56-47. Colts Neck’s Mitchell Kates (r) goes for the block against CBA’s Mike Kuhn during their game in Colts Neck on Dec. 20, which was won by Colts Neck, 56-47. Spinella, a forward, was called upon to guard one of the Shore’s best scorers in Bryan Neller, and at the same time still contribute offensively (15 points). He did both, helping the Cougars beat CBA for the second straight year and first time ever at home in the Cougar den. With the win, the Cougars grabbed the early lead in the Shore ConferenceANorth Division.

Spinella accepted the challenge of guarding Neller and dogged him the entire night, limiting him to just 10 points (10 under his season’s average).

“He’s a catch-and-shoot player,” said Spinella. “My goalwas to deny himthe ball.”

Spinella’s rebounding on the defensive end was big in the fourth quarter as well as limiting the Colts to just one shot.

Craig Perry had the difficult assignment of guarding the Colts’ other big gun, the slashing guard Mike Kuhn, who can ring it up from the outside too.

PHOTOS BY JEFF GRANIT staff PHOTOS BY JEFF GRANIT staff Kuhn got his points (23), but earned each one of them and didn’t shoot for a high percentage.

“Our defensive intensity was the difference in the game,” said Cougar head coach Lou Piccola.

Thursday’s game was a coming-out party of sorts for Cougar point guard Mitchell Kates, who dominated the game, especially in the first half. He seemed to make every big shot or every big pass as Colts Neck took a 29-22 lead.

CBA, after trailing by as many as 11 (24-13), had pulled to within four points, 26-22, in the waning seconds of the second quarter. The Cougars held for the last shot.With seconds left on the clock, Kates stepped back and drilled a three-pointer that gave momentum back to the Cougars heading into the locker room.

“He [Kuhn] was sagging off me,” noted Kates,who had a team-high 22 points on the night. “All summer Iworked onmy shot, taking a couple hundred shots every day.”

Kates’ improved offensive game was on full display as he hit a number of pull-up jumpers in transition or on driving lay-ups.

“That’s where I make my living, around the foul line,” said the Cougar junior of his jump shooting.

But it wasn’t just his shooting that made a difference Thursday. He played his role of point guard to the hilt, distributing the ball and running the offense.

“My job is to get everyone involved, control the tempo and try to hit my shots,” he pointed out.

Even with everything clicking, the Cougars knew it would be a 32-minute game and that CBA would make a run.

Kates scored on a three-point play to start the second half and the lead was back to 10 (32-22).

Kuhn sparked a CBA 12-4 Colts run that pulled them within two, 36-34. Kates sank a pair of free throws to push the lead back to four. Neller scored inside to pull CBA within two again (38-36).

Abig offensive rebound by JustinGaffney helped theCougars push the lead back to five (41-36) at the end of the quarter.Aftermaking his first free throw, Adam Dombrowski missed the second, but Gaffney pulled down the rebound andwas fouled on the put back. He sank both free throws and the Cougars had a littlemore breathing room.

All night, the Cougars were hustling under their own glass and held a big second chance margin over the Colts.

In the fourth quarter, Spinella scored seven points as Colts Neck had the answer every time the Colts got close.

A Gaffney lay-up off a Kates feed extended the lead to 50-42 with 1:42 remaining, all but sealing the win.

“We were very excited about this game,” said Kates. “We’d never beaten CBA at home.”

Colts Neck improved to 3-0 on the season and in A North with the win.

CBA suffered its first loss of the year after winning its first three for new head coach Geoff Billet. He credited the Cougar defense for being the difference.

“They did a great job on defense; we didn’t get a lot of easy points,” he said. “They took us out of what we wanted to do. Spinella did a good job on a good offensive play and Kates was tremendous.”

Billet, who said that every game will be a learning experience for his young Colts (Kuhn is the only senior, and he and Neller are the only players with varsity experience), noted that the defensive intensity the Cougars displayed for the entire game was missing on the part of the Colts.

“We needed a 32-minute defensive effort,” he said. “We played it in spurts, but not for 32 minutes.”

Billet did find something positive to take away from the game.

“I thought we showed some toughness in the second half,” he said.

People are already looking ahead to the rematch in Lincroft on Jan. 22, but both teams know a lot of basketball is still to be played before that game can have championship implications.