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Sterns Escapes Tar Heels’ Upset Bid, Advances to Semis

August 2, 2012

Late offensive surge from Jesse Steele,  Mike Poole pushes Sterns into next round

BELMAR — Things were anything but easy for Sterns Trailer on Tuesday night, when the South Division champions took on the New Jersey Tar Heels in the quarterfinal round of the Jersey Shore Basketball League [JSBL] playoffs.

Sterns entered the McCann Activities & Athletic Center [MAAC] carrying the top seed from the South Division, while the Tar Heels, a first-year squad in the JSBL, were pegged the heavy underdog.

It would take each tick of the clock and a big, late-game offensive surge from the duo of Monmouth University’s Jesse Steele and Rutgers’ Mike Poole, who each finished with a team-high 28-points, to help Sterns Trailer pull out a slight, 104-98 victory in the quarterfinal.

With the win over the Tar Heels, Sterns Trailer advanced to yesterday’s JSBL semifinal game.

 Sterns Trailer had many obstacles to overcome in the matchup with the Tar Heels, who had three players score near 30 points each.

Poole’s teammate at Rutgers, Malick Kone, scored a game-high 31 points for the Tar Heels on Tuesday night and got great support from Steele’s teammates at Monmouth — Marcus Ware and Andrew Nicholas — both of whom added 28 points for the underdog in the game.

In a surprise occurrence, the Tar Heels held a 55-54 lead at the half.

Both Steele and Poole knew, before picking up the pace on offense, Sterns Trailer had to tighten up its defense on the hot-shooting Tar Heels.

“We weren’t pressing on them,” Poole said. “When you are playing against some talented kids you can’t really do that.”

“We just had to play better defense because they were making every shot,” Steele added. “We had to pick up our intensity on defense.”

Things did not get much better for Sterns in the beginning of the second half, as Nicholas caught fire in the third quarter. The sharp shooter connected on four, 3-pointers as part of a 14-point quarter from the Wrightsville, Pa., native, as the Tar Heels clung to a 83-80 lead entering the fourth.

Despite the big quarter from Nicholas, Poole felt Sterns was ready to make a push in the final quarter.

“We knew we were the better team,” said the 6-foot-5 Scarlet Knight. “In the fourth quarter we picked up our energy a little more.”

Behind 13 points from Steele and seven from Poole, including five straight after the Tar Heels went up, 98-97, with 1:43 to play, Sterns was able to take control as the clock prepared to hit zero.

Two free throws from the charity stripe from Steele would seal the fate of both teams with 20.2 seconds remaining on the clock.

Poole said his final two daggers, including a back-breaking 3-pointer from the elbow, “felt real good.”

“I was kind of frustrated — shots I usually make weren’t dropping,” he said. “I knew I had to make those two shots.”

The Rutgers guard/forward added that his competitive nature is a constant, no matter the circumstance.

“I look at every game the same: Whether it’s a Big East game or a Jersey Shore game, I play to win,” Poole said. “At the end of the day, all I see is another team in front of me.  I can care less if it’s Cincinnati or the Jersey Shore Tar Heels, it’s the same thing to me. I just play hard and I just want to win.”

After the game, Steele felt confident that Sterns Trailer could hoist the trophy following tonight’s championship game.

“We were the [division champions] for a reason,” he said. “We just have to keep doing what we have been doing and we will have a good shot.”

follow me on twitter: @samcostantino

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