BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent Raritan Michael Aaman has helped Raritan High School’s rebuilding boys basketball team to a winning start when his teammates have played strong, supporting roles.But Neptune (8-2), the preseason No. 1 team in the Shore, took that away and used its speed to score points in transition off turnovers from its full-court pressure in the Boardwalk Hoop Group Showcase toward a convincing 68-39 victory on Jan. 14 at Long Branch High School. Aaman finished with 20 points, more than half of his team’s total, and got the showcase’s Outstanding Player award for 6-5 Raritan. Although he and his mates played hard throughout, last season’s Shore Player of the Year who is headed to Wagner put the loss in perspective.“Their press worked well and then they were getting back on defense,” Aaman said. “It’s only one game and not a divisional loss. We’ll definitely bounce back. We were 2-4 at one time.”Raritan, which is 4-1 in Shore Conference A North Division and tied for first with Holmdel, played division games on Jan. 17 against Matawan and takes on Shore Regional at home on Dec. 19.“The last few weeks we were 4-2 with losses to Neptune and Paterson Eastside. I’ll not apologize for that. They’re pretty good teams,” head coach Denis Caruano said. “We had a big season last year and won the Shore Conference Tournament, and they invited us [to the showcase] off that. You can’t pass up that opportunity.”Aaman tried to carry his team when the rest of the lineup was quiet, hitting a basket for Raritan’s last lead at 6-4 before Jaheem Woods smashed a dunk and Isais Calderon sank a three-pointer to send Neptune on its way to a 17-10 first-quarter lead.“Tonight we were getting close to 50 shots, and we would take that, but they were getting layups and we were pulling up for threes to try to get into the game, and that put us out of whack,” Caruano said . Raritan struggled at times in getting the ball over half-court against the pressure, and when it did, it rushed some shots and turned the ball over, which led to good scoring opportunities off fast breaks for speedy Neptune on the other end. Calderon hit a three-pointer and a layup at the start of the second quarter when Neptune opened it with nine straight points to take command, 26-10. Aaman broke that streak with a basket at 4:42.Playing a quick team like Neptune is a good preparation for later in the season against opponents like that in tournament settings.“I’m proud of how we played for 32 minutes,” Caruano said. “We were getting to the line and working hard.“That’s the mental character of this program. When you play these games, if it pays off at the end of the year in the state tournament, you don’t worry about a 29-point loss on Jan. 14 if you win a game on March 10.”Caruano also praised guard Connor Flynn for breaking Neptune’s press at times and setting up his teammates for shots.
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