South Jersey Sports Report: Pleasantville Races Past Ocean City
OCEAN CITY — If fans gathered in Dixie Howell Gymnasium on Sunday night thought Pleasantville’s 23-4 blitz against host Ocean City to start the final game of the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend was impressive, well, that was just the opening act.
The Greyhounds ran up and down the court at a dizzying pace in the second game of the annual Jack Boyd Memorial Doubleheader (Rancocas Valley defeated Ocean City’s girls team 60-53 in the first game), draining 3-pointers and at one point building a 30-point lead. Ocean City chipped away at the huge deficit throughout the first half and got within 28-20, but that was a mere speed bump for Pleasantville, which raced to a 93-66 victory to improve to 2-0.
Pleasantville has a whole new look this year without the likes of Jacob Valeus, Sahmir Jones and Jalen Freeman, but seems to be just as explosive as last year’s version. Big man Elijah Jones — Sahmir Jones’ cousin — was 10-of-18 from the floor and finished with 25 points and 17 rebounds, and he wasn’t even the Greyhounds’ leading scorer. Marquise McLoughlin drained seven of Pleasantville’s 13 threes to finish with a team-high 27 points, and guard Noel Gonzalez chipped in 17 points and four steals.
Hot start: Pleasantville (2-0) came out on fire from the opening tip and scored 20 of the game’s first 22 points, using some serious full-court pressure from its guards to test the ball-handling ability of Ocean City’s backcourt. In the first half, the Greyhounds forced Ocean City in 13 turnovers and at one point led 23-4. The Ville also got five first-half threes from McLoughlin, a 6-foot senior who has moved into a starting role with the departure of Sahmir Jones and Freeman.
“I felt it coming in here and just caught fire from the beginning. I had a good shoot-around before the game,” McLoughlin said. “We’re a smaller team, but we’re tough on defense.”
“We just want to come out and play hard. Our guards played extremely well on the defensive end and that kind of set the tone for us,” Elijah Jones, a 6-foot-7 junior, said. “Offensively, everybody is just getting started in their roles, but everybody knows what we have defensive, especially with our guards. I tip my hat to them.”
Weathering the storm: Give credit to Ocean City for fighting back in the second quarter. The Red Raiders started handling Pleasantville’s constant pressure defense better and were able to get the ball inside to guys like Tom Finnegan and Mike Rhodes, and also got some big shots from junior point guard Gannon Brady to climb back to within eight points with 4:30 left before halftime.
Ocean City shaved the lead all the way down to six points, 30-24, on a baseline layup from Brady and a bucket by Brady Rauner in transition. That capped a 20-7 run by Ocean City, but Pleasantville answered with a 9-2 spurt to go into halftime with a 39-26 lead. Brady finished with a team-high 27 points and finished four assists shy of a triple-double, while Rhodes added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Big inside presence: Jones got his feet wet last year as a complimentary piece to Valeus on the low blocks, but this year he has to be the mad underneath the basket, and so far he’s rising to that challenge. He shot better than 50 percent from the floor against Ocean City and nine of his 17 rebounds came on the offensive end, as the Greyhounds scored 19 second-chance points.
“He’s a great teammate, we love him,” McLoughlin said of Jones.
“I’ve had to grow up a little bit. My cousin and the previous seniors have all left, so I kind of have to step up into more of a leadership role, and I’m all for it,” Jones said. “I’ve been working on trying to get stronger. My inside game needs some work, all of that.”
Respect ‘The Ville’: Pleasantville players said they felt a little bit snubbed by preseason write-ups in the South Jersey media, and are intent on proving they can be an elite team. They want to play an aggressive style of basketball and rarely take their foot off the gas pedal, as they showed with pressure on Ocean City even when leading by more than 20 points in the final two minutes. Pleasantville scored 54 points in the second half, including 34 in the third quarter, and in two games so far the Greyhounds have scored 83 and 93 points in wins over Atlantic Christian and Ocean City, respectively.
“That’s the Ville in us. We come out and we’re not backing down from anybody,” Jones said. “I feel like since the preseason we’ve been getting disrespected, so I feel like this will set everybody straight.”
Added McLoughlin, “We feel like we got disrespected (in the preseason) and people have been counting us out, so we’re just making our name known again.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays