OCEAN CITY - The Ocean City High School student section made noise every time Hammonton's Christian Mortellite touched the basketball Friday night, trying to rattle him.
Mortellite loved it.
The Blue Devils' star scored 29 points as Hammonton won 57-44 in a Cape-Atlantic League interconference boys basketball game.
"I love that stuff, man," a smiling Mortellite said afterward. "It's like when you go to college or you're watching college (games) on TV. I love that. ... Actually, my freshman year it started. They got on me in sophomore year, junior year and senior year. It's fun, though. I like it."
The game was close in the first half, but Hammonton (3-1) clamped down on defense after the break and scored the first 12 points of the third quarter, stretching its lead to 42-25.
"We had a good talk the second half and I think they realized that defensively, that's where our game is," Blue Devils coach Joe Martino said. "If we're not playing defense, then we're not going to be worth anything. That's how we're built: Play tough defense and rebound."
Isaiah Pugh set the tone after halftime with a steal and layup. Devon Porteons then made back-to-back baskets and Mortellite made three in a row - the third off his steal - to put Hammonton up by 17.
Ocean City's Justin Ruggia ended the run with a 3-pointer, one of four he made in the game. He finished with 16 points.
But the Red Raiders (1-3) never got within single digits after that.
Mortellite waved his arms and yelled as he went to the bench for a timeout late in the third.
"We came here flat, I think," Mortellite said. "We knew that. We came into halftime and Coach got us riled up a little bit. ... We basically just played defense, and that's why we got the 'W.' "
Ocean City coach John Bruno said Mortellite, a senior, has become harder to stop this season. The 6-foot-4 forward always has been a strong outside shooter, but he has become a force inside as well.
"He was probably single-handedly the biggest difference (in the game)," Bruno said. "That's when you become effective, ... when you can't really guard him inside and you can't guard him outside."
The win was big for the Blue Devils because it came just five days after they squandered a late lead on the same floor. Hammonton led by seven with less than five minutes left against Egg Harbor Township on Sunday in the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Classic before losing 63-58.
"It was nice to pull away in the third quarter," Martino said of Friday's game.
Ocean City, meanwhile, showed some promise. The young Red Raiders made nine 3-pointers, including four by Ryan Laverty, who finished with 14 points.
"Most kids learn from losses more than they learn from wins, so all in all I think it was positive," Bruno said.
Martino said Hammonton, which has just two starters back from last season, also has room for improvement.
His counterpart Friday said the Blue Devils belong in the conversation for the Cape-Atlantic League tournament.
"I think they're going to contend," Bruno said. "Athletically, they can contend with any of the teams, (including) Middle (Township) and St. Augustine (Prep). The question is, can they score with them? But if they can score with them, they can defend as well as anybody in the league."
Contact Jason Mazda:
Hammonton 17 13 18 9-57
Ocean City 17 8 8 11-44
H-Mortellite 13 0-0 29, Harris 4 0-1 8, Pugh 3 0-0 7, Porteons 5 1-2 11, Hughes 1 0-0 2. Totals 26 1-3 57.
OC-Moretti 3 0-0 7, Ruggia 6 0-0 16, Laverty 5 0-0 14, Sullivan 1 2-2 4, Price 1 1-1 3. Totals 16 3-3 44.
3-pointers-Mortellite (3), Pugh H; Moretti, Ruggia (4), Laverty (4) OC.
Records-Hammonton 3-1, Ocean City 1-3.