LINWOOD — When fans put down their money for a ticket to a Mainland Regional vs. Ocean City boys basketball game, they know they’re going to get their money’s worth. That’s just the way it is with this hardcourt rivalry — neither team is going to back down or give an inch, no matter what the scoreboard says.

Ocean City was downright abysmal in the first half on Friday night and scored just 14 points, and at one point in the third quarter the Red Raiders trailed by 24 points, at 42-18. But Ocean City came storming back in the fourth quarter, chipping away at the Mustangs’ lead like a sculptor. In the end, however, Mainland somehow hung on to score a 63-62 victory in a game that was much more exciting that it promised to be when the Mainland dance team performed its routine at the intermission.

Even entering the fourth quarter Ocean City trailed 44-31, but the Red Raiders got some huge plays from Gannon Brady, Joe Repetti and Brad Jamison, and a big 3-pointer from Ben Hoag, to close the gap to 59-55 with 1:21 remaining. Repetti scored with 47 seconds remaining to make it 60-57, and a traditional 3-point play from Brady shaved Mainland’s lead down to 62-60 with 26 seconds left.

Mainland (2-2, 1-0 Cape-Atlantic League National Conference) got a free throw from Ja’Quan Mace with 18 seconds to go to push its lead to 63-60, but after a missed three by Brady, Mike Rhodes scored on a putback with five seconds remaining. The Mustangs, however, beat the press on the inbounds and ran out the final few seconds to survive with a victory.

“Every foul shot that we made (in the fourth quarter) mattered, because if we missed one we knew they were still in it,” said Mainland senior forward Jake Cook, who finished with 19 points, including 10-of-13 from the free-throw line. “Honestly, if they had 10 more seconds left in that game they probably would have come back and beat us. We’re glad we got the win, but we’re kind of disappointed in ourselves for letting them do that in the second half. We held them to 14 points the first half, so we’re disappointed, but it’s OC and we’re glad we got the win.”

Hot start: Mainland came out strong in the first half as Cook scored on a runout to highlight a 10-2 run to start the action, and the Mustangs got 14 points combined from senior guards Mace and Luke Mazur in the second quarter to bolt out to a 33-14 lead by the break. In all, Mainland hit eight 3-pointers, including three from Mazur, who scored a team-high 21 points.

“I did all I could to put us up in the beginning. It sucked to be on the bench (with foul trouble late), but we got it done and that’s all that matters. We had that 20-point lead, which is going to be awful when we look at the film tomorrow — we blew it, but as long as we win, I don’t care if I have zero or 20 points, as long as the team wins,” Mazur said. “In the first half, we were shooting well. We were kind of chucking in the first quarter but then we kind of got our touch on 3-pointers, and our defense played well, taking charges. But in the second half, you see that’s why the lead got taken away — our defense. In the first half we gave up 14 points and in the second half they ended up with 62, so we have to keep it up in the second half like we did in the first half.”

“(In the first half) we moved the ball really well. We were swinging the ball, creating open shots, getting layups, driving and kicking, just moving the ball,” Cook added.

Second-half surge: Ocean City (2-4, 0-1) got back into the game in the third quarter by outscoring Mainland 17-11, then really turned on the afterburners in the fourth quarter, racking up 31 points, more than double its output from the first half. Brady, a junior point guard, finished with a team-high 24 points and Repetti had his best game of the season so far, chipping in 17 points. Jamison added nine to aid the comeback effort.

Ocean City used the long-range shot to get the burst it needed with about two minutes remaining, as a three from Hoag cut the deficit to 59-50, and another from Brady shaved pulled the Red Raiders to within 59-53. Repetti then scored on a driving layup to get Ocean City within 59-55, setting up a wild final 1 minute, 21 seconds.

“It’s happened before, so we have to work on that as a team,” Cook said of Mainland’s lapses on defense in the fourth quarter. “We have to work putting the pedal to the floor and finishing out the game. They definitely have some very good athletes, and we were in foul trouble, too. It was nerve-wracking there at the end. Especially against Ocean City, it’s the worst. It made the game more exciting for the students and fans, but not for our team.”

Intense rivalry: In South Jersey there aren’t too many rivalries that can match Mainland vs. Ocean City, and even a regular-season game in early January brought the juice. The gym was at standing-room-only and dozens of fans had to be turned away at the door.

“We had some alumni in the locker room and they were saying, ‘four years from now, all you’ll remember is the OC game.’ One guy said he hasn’t played in 20 years, but he remembers all eight games he played against Ocean City, so that’s all I have to say about that,” Mazur said. “You have to love it, the last game at home (against them) as a senior, it’s the best feeling ever. I know we should have won by more than that, but it’s fine.”

What’s next: Mainland hosts Oakcrest on Jan. 7 at 5:30 p.m. Ocean City takes on Haddonfield on Sunday at 1:45 p.m. at Holy Spirit in the Seagull Classic.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays