CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – The box score said that Luciano Keyes scored seven points in the Ocean City High School boys basketball team’s 52-42 victory over Middle Township on Monday.
That modest point production does not accurately depict his imprint on the game, however, especially when it mattered most.
Keyes, a senor guard, made two free throws that gave Ocean City the lead for good with three minutes to play and later added another free throw, came up with a critical steal and drew an offensive foul as the Raiders closed the game with a 13-2 run.
“I’m out there just trying to help my teammates and put us in a good spot to win,” Keyes said. “This is a great win for us.”
The victory improved the Raiders to 6-3 for the season going into Thursday’s Cape-Atlantic National Conference game against an upstart Lower Cape May team.
Ocean City made an extraordinary 22 of 24 foul shots against Middle, including 11 of 12 in the fourth quarter.
“Twenty-two for 24, that’s unbelievable,” Keyes said. “That’s something we’ve been working on. It’s good to see it paid off. Without that we’re not in the game.”
The lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter before the free throws by Keyes put Ocean City ahead to stay. Christian Pates added a basket with 2:18 left. The Raiders then scored their final nine points from the foul line and limited Middle to only two points over the final 3 ½ minutes.
Middle fell to 1-7 on the season with the loss. But the Panthers certainly looked like a much more competitive team due to the presence of sophomore guard Jalen Freeman, a transfer from Wildwood Catholic who saw his first action of the season. Freeman led Middle with 17 points.
“We’re getting close,” first-year Middle coach Anthony Farmer said. “We’re definitely getting better. The kids are working hard every day trying to improve. That’s all we can ask of them. At some point we’re going to catch a break.”
That break didn’t come against an Ocean City team that handled the final 3 ½ minutes almost flawlessly.
“I’m extremely proud of our effort,” Ocean City coach John Bruno said. “To come down to this environment and come out with a win is huge for us.
“Even without Freeman, if you look at their schedule they have played some really tough teams and I thought they were a pretty good basketball team. With Freeman, that makes them even tougher. We were hoping maybe they’d be a little out of sync with this being his first game.”
Middle made only 7 of 16 foul shots. Two of the misses were the front ends of one-and-one opportunities in the fourth quarter.
“I think they’re a good team that didn’t shoot the ball well,” Bruno said. “But they really crash the boards.
“I thought we did a good job of keeping our composure amidst the chaos. Win or lose, this was a phenomenal atmosphere, almost like a playoff game. Anytime you get a win at Middle Township it’s a good win because it doesn’t happen often.”
Luciano Lubrano, who entered the game averaging 21.6 points per game, was right around his average with a game-high 21 points to lead Ocean City. Andrew Donoghue added nine points and eight rebounds and Pates chipped in eight points. Jimmy Flukey joined Keyes with seven points.
“I thought Luciano Lubrano really stepped up as a leader and we had a lot of players do a lot of little things that helped us,” Bruno said. “And, of course, when you make you free throws like that you’re going to have a good chance to win basketball games.”
Thursday’s game at Lower Cape May features two teams that are unbeaten in Cape-Atlantic National Conference play. Lower, a team that won only four games last season, is one of the surprise stories of the CAL so far, having won eight of its first nine games overall.
Following the matchup with Lower, Ocean City travels to Holy Spirit on Tuesday. Spirit is considered the favorite to win the CAL National title.