Without the services of star senior forward Jake Cook, who was lost for the rest of the season after suffering a torn MCL in a recent game against Clearview, Mainland boys basketball coach Dan Williams needed a new formula to try to beat rival Holy Spirit on Monday afternoon in the opening round of the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament. That formula seemed to be the Mustangs sticking their collective noses to the grindstone on defense, and getting some timely second-half buckets from Tony Tamanini.

Mainland rallied back after a 13-2 third-quarter run by Holy Spirit, and the biggest shot of the night came on a 3-pointer from the left corner with a minute left by Tamanini. That gave the Mustangs a 40-35 lead, and Mainland closed out a 44-37 win with four straight points from senior guard Ja’Quan Mace in the final 40 seconds.

Without Cook, the Mustangs struggled to score in the first half and early on Spirit took advantage with Joe Gleen, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, but the Spartans were never able to get any significant separation. Mainland fought back from an early 8-1 deficit late in the first quarter, then Mace stuck a big three to start the second and tie the game, 10-10. By halftime, the Stangs trailed by just one, 18-17.

Holy Spirit (16-8) used that 13-2 third-quarter run to take a 33-25 lead, but again Mainland (19-6) chipped its way back into the game, shaving the deficit to just 33-30 heading into the fourth quarter. Luke Mazur tied the game with a long 3-pointer to start the fourth, and after a free throw from Mazur and a baseline layup, Mainland led 36-33 and never trailed again. Spirit drew within 36-35 on a pair of free throws from Glenn with 2:22 left, but a free throw from Mazur made it 37-35, and Tamanini’s corner three was the dagger that ultimately finished the Spartans off.

Mainland, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, takes on No. 2 St. Augustine Prep, a 78-57 winner over Pleasantville, in the semifinals on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Absegami High School.

Tamanini time: The Mainland swingman didn’t score a ton of points, but the ones he did score were huge, none bigger than that three with a minute left. He finished with just eight points and that was his only 3-pointer of the game, but it turned out to be the decisive shot.

“Everybody was so surprised that I shot that, I was just so happy it went in,” he said. “I was just praying it went in because I didn’t hit any all game and that was the one time we needed it.”

“We told him that shot may have been the craziest shot of the whole year, but since it went it was the best shot that we took all year. You’re not drawing something up like that, you’re actually talking to them in the timeout about making the clock your friend and go hit your free throws,” Williams said. “I’m so happy for him. He’s coming off an injury, too, and we weren’t sure if he would be able to go today. Our trainer (Pat Dioguardo) told him to try it yesterday, and he was able to go about halfway. He just gutted it out. It was a very tough, solid, gutsy performance by him. He sprained his ankle earlier in the year and missed a little bit of time.”


A different approach: Williams knew his team was going to be undersized without Cook, especially with a guy like Glenn in the paint. But guys like Zach Matik and Nana Osunniyi did enough to keep Glenn mostly in check after Glenn scored six points early on in the first quarter. Mainland limited him to just six points in the second half, including two in the fourth quarter.

“(Glenn) knows how to play the game very well. He’s a big body and is fundamentally sound. If he’s not scoring he knows how to get it to guys in good scoring position, and he’s really tough on the backboard,” Williams said. “I thought Matik and Nana did an awesome job to defend him and rebound with him the best they could. We didn’t necessarily altar anything, we did go with a little bit of a trapping zone, which helped us out, and make him maybe be the guy who ends up shooting in a little different spot than he wants instead of them running their offense and getting it to (Christian) Kalinowski or one of their other guys in a good spot.

“It hurts to lose a player like (Cook), but what we talked about the last 48 hours was not different in the slightest. Our formula, like we’ve told them all year, is rebound and get out (in transition),” Williams added. “Whether Jake is in or out, whether another guy goes down — guys have to step in and defend their tails off, and if we do that we have a chance against anybody, particularly with two senior guards like Luke and Ja’Quan who can handle the ball and knock down free throws.”

All about effort: The Mustangs may have been undersized without Cook, and trailed for much of the game, but Williams-coached teams never give up and in the end they gave the Corral Crazies — Mainland’s vociferous student section — plenty to cheer about.

“Defense, absolutely (was the key). That was as good a defensive effort as we’ve had all year,” Williams said. “They were willing to totally sacrifice and play a little bit different style on the other end, too — especially Luke, getting guys involved, knowing he was going to get blanketed and not score as much. He sacrificed that to just go lead the team. It was the defensive effort he’s had, and Mace, I thought, had the best game he’s ever had since I’ve coached him. That was a huge difference. We were struggling to score for a while in the first half and Ja’Quan made some shots that really got us energized.”

Added Tamanini, “We just came out really physically in the second half. Without Jake it’s hard with rebounding, but I had to rebound and our whole team had to rebound better. This feels so great, we’re going to Absegami (on Wednesday), it feels awesome.”

Stats: Glenn led the way for Holy Spirit with 14 points and freshman point guard Jahmir Smith also scored 14, while Kalinowski added six points. For Mainland Mace led the way with 12 points, Mazur added nine, including a pair of 3-pointers, while Tamanini finished with eight and Kareem Spence added eight as well.

What’s next: Mainland takes on St. Augustine Prep on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Absegami High School in the CAL Tournament semifinals. Holy Spirit hosts Timothy Christian at 7 p.m. on March 3 in the opening round of the Non-Public B South state playoffs.

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