ATLANTIC CITY - The Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team was off to a sluggish start Saturday afternoon.
Coming off two losses in their past three games, the Crusaders trailed Absegami by double digits with less than three minutes remaining in the first half.
During a stoppage in play, Wildwood Catholic coach Dave DeWeese yelled to junior point guard George Cook, "George, turn up the heat!"
The Crusaders turned it way up, dominating the rest of the way for a 62-39 win over the Braves in a Battle by the Bay game at Atlantic City High School.
Cook had two steals during the key 10-0 run to close the first half. That run cut a 13-point deficit to three at the break.
"We just talked on defense," said Cook, who finished with nine points. "Play hard. Get rebounds. (DeWeese) just wants us to, like he said, just turn it up everywhere."
Wildwood Catholic (15-3), ranked No. 11 in The Press Elite 11, trailed 26-15 when DeWeese told Cook to turn it up. Absegami's Abdul Anderson hit a 3-pointer shortly after that - one of his team's five 3s in the first half - but the Braves (7-10) were held to just 10 points the rest of the game.
"We just picked up the defense," said Crusaders forward Kevin McWade, who scored 16 of his game-high 21 points in the second half and grabbed 15 rebounds. "We just didn't let them score."
The Crusaders were outrebounded 15-6 to start the game. In the final two-plus minutes of the first half, though, Wildwood Catholic outrebounded Absegami 5-0 and grabbed three steals. The Crusaders finished with a 38-33 rebounding advantage and 12 steals, including five by McWade and four by his younger brother, Kevin.
"I think our defensive pressure was relentless today," DeWeese said. "We started out a little slow. They hit some big shots. ... And we kept staying with them. We didn't give up."
Wildwood Catholic took its first lead 2 minutes, 45 seconds into the third on a Kevin McWade basket. Absegami later tied it at 34, but Catholic started pulling away in the final seconds of the third.
With a 36-34 lead and 5.9 seconds to go in the quarter, Cook made a floater in the lane and drew the foul, pumping his fist and yelling afterward. Cook made the free throw, and then Absegami turned it over on the inbounds pass. Eddie McWade scored to stretch the lead to 41-34.
The lead was never less than five the rest of the game.
"In the second half, we put the clamps on them," DeWeese said.
When Eddie McWade stole the ball and passed to Jordan Robertson (17 points) for a wide-open, two-handed dunk with 2:53 left in the fourth, it was apparent that the game was out of reach.
"We've been saying it all along: 'Consistency and mental toughness,' " Absegami coach Mike Bult said. "You've got to play four quarters of basketball. And we're not. Another team goes on a run, it's part of basketball. You've got to handle it. We get down on ourselves a little bit."
The win was big for Wildwood Catholic, which had started the season 13-1 but lost to Bishop Eustace last Saturday and Pleasantville on Thursday.
"People have been saying that we really didn't play anyone yet, and we wanted to win big today and prove that we can play with (good teams)," Eddie McWade said.
Contact Jason Mazda:
Wildwood Catholic 10 16 15 21-62
Absegami 14 15 5 5-39
WC-E. McWade 8 5-6 21, Cook 2 5-5 9, Robertson 5 4-4 17, Freeman 1 1-4 3, K. McWade 3 2-2 8, Moretti 2 0-0 4. Totals 21 17-21 62.
A-Christmon 2 0-0 4, Rice 1 0-0 3, Anderson 4 6-6 16, Loveland 3 0-0 6, Nelson 3 0-0 9, Fetske 0 1-2 1. Totals 13 7-8 40.
3-pointers-Robertson (3) WC; Anderson (2), Rice, Nelson (3) A.
Records-Wildwood Catholic 15-3, Absegami 7-10.