Jaguars’ boys basketball team relying on defense, chemistry


 Jackson Memorial Jackson Memorial Jackson Memorial High School’s boys basketball players are being put to the test on whether they can bounce back.

That was the case after the Jaguars lost a Shore Conference A South Division battle for first place against Toms River High School North, 49-32, for their second loss in nine games, as highly touted 6- foot-6-inch center Eric Carter was held to 10 points. It was the Jaguars’ second loss to the Mariners in a little more than a week, with another loss coming in the WOBM Christmas Tournament by three points.

The Jaguars bounced back with a 48-43 A South victory on Jan. 10 over Toms River High School East, as Carter finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds. The team comes into the week 9-2 off a 41-30 nonconference victory at Freehold Township High School. Carter scored 15 points and Nick Specht fired in 10 points to help stake Jackson Memorial to a lead that was more than 20 points at one point.

“Overall, I like the way they responded coming off a disappointing loss,” coach Joe Fagan said.

Fagan’s team took on an always tough Lacey Township High School on Jan. 15 and has a rematch on Jan. 18 with Brick Memorial High School, which Jackson Memorial beat in triple overtime on Dec. 14. Both games are at home starting at 5:30 p.m. The Jaguars are in a showcase at Lawrence High School on Jan. 19 against Notre Dame High School at 2 p.m.

“We don’t dwell on the past,” Fagan said. “We know we have to play a certain way. We know who we are.”

What added to the frustration of losing to Toms River North is that Jackson Memorial had come off a 36-27 victory over a formidable Southern Regional High School team, in which Carter scored 13 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, while point guard Salam Simon sealed the victory with some crucial plays in the fourth quarter to finish with 10 points.

In both games against Toms River North and Southern, Jackson Memorial struggled offensively. However, defense carried the day with Southern’s scoring output accounting for the fewest points allowed by the Jaguars in many years. Last year, they held down Toms River North in a key 31-28 victory en route to the A South Division title.

The team held Central Regional High School scoreless until the second quarter in a game this season and Toms River South did not get on the scoreboard until there were five seconds left in the first quarter. That kind of defensive play has been important with many close games.

“We’ve been defending at a high level and communicating well at every possession,” Fagan said. “But, we’re not getting defensive rebounds like we should.”

Mike Specht was exemplary in that regard against Southern, holding its leading scorer to 10 points — half of his average.

“I was just trying to beat him to his spot,” Specht said. “It’s an important part when our offense is not there. We’ve held most teams under 40 points.”

Specht also said before the Toms River North rematch that his team needed to play better on both ends than it did the first time and fell short in both regards. Fagan said on the offensive end, the “execution is starting to get better. Turnovers are probably too high,” which he said led to the loss to Toms River North when scored many points off turnovers.

“There were a lot of uncontested shots off our bad mistakes. They played really well and we played poorly,” Fagan said.

It’s been a successful rebuilding season with starters Brandon Holup, Brandon McDonnell, Brian Kenny and Elliot Bell, as well as key reserve Anthony Skwiat, graduated and Carter adjusting to his new playing weight of 25 pounds less than a year ago.

“I’m used to it now. It helps a lot with jumping,” said Carter, who made the WOBM All-Tournament Team. “My conditioning is better.”

Carter said the solid start does not surprise him as he, the Specht brothers and Simon all have experience as starters from last season. Carter started many games until an ankle injury sidelined him at the end of last season.

“There’s not a season when we don’t expect to be successful,” Carter said. “This year, we have to work more on defense and not break down.”

Nick Specht said the solid start “does not surprise me. We know how we play and this offense we’ve run a few years.”

With that, he said, has been “good team chemistry,” especially on the defensive end.

Fagan said that chemistry has allowed different players to emerge as key players in different games. He hopes that will make for a different matchup when Jackson Memorial plays Toms River North again in late January, which it hopes will be a meaningful game for first place.