Valeriani Sets Single-Game Mark as Southern Boys Hoops Squad Buries Lacey
If you can imagine Dick Vitale doing analysis from the sidelines of Southern Regional boys basketball games, the old broadcast pro might have something very simple to say about senior Mark Valeriani.
“Marky V. loves to shoot the rock, baby!”
Well, Valeriani wasn’t just shooting the rock on Monday, Feb. 13, he was dropping bombs on Lacey. The senior shooting guard racked up nine three-point field goals on the way to a 29-point effort to lead the Rams to their ninth victory of the season, 69-50. His nine treys broke Southern’s single-game mark once set by Pat Maloney during the 1996-97 season.
“I think it was our second possession of the second half, when I took the inbounds pass and put one down, that I thought I’d have a shot at the record,” Valeriani said. “I’ve been working for this my whole career and I wanted to get it before I graduated.”
Good thing he had the opportunity against Lacey. Coming out of the victory – Southern’s fourth straight and six in its last nine games – the Rams had just three games left to the season. Southern didn’t qualify to play in this week’s Shore Conference Tournament or the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV sectional, which starts Feb. 27.
“It kind of stinks that we’re not playing in either of the tournaments, but we’ve done a good job of turning things around a bit the past few weeks,” he said. “We lost a lot of close games early in the season and it took some time for us to get it together and start winning some of those games. But the big thing is we stuck together and didn’t give up. We didn’t quit on each other.”
Led by Valeriani and junior Jake Dubois, who ended up with 21 points, the Rams on Monday stuck together despite an opening six minutes during which they scored just two points and trailed the Lions, 8-2. Valeriani drained his first trifecta of the contest and then led Southern through a 17:25 stretch – bridging all four quarters – during which they outscored the Lions, 50-29, to put the game out of reach.
After senior Anthony Cipriani drilled a three-pointer from the left wing and Dubois banked in a trey with two seconds left in the first quarter, the Rams and Lions were tied, 11-11, heading into the second stint. Following a Lacey foul shot nine seconds into the quarter, Valeriani buried his second three-pointer 22 seconds later, putting the Rams ahead to stay, as they stretched their lead to six points, 24-18, following another Valeriani trifecta with 4:59 left in the half and took a 28-24 advantage into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Rams simply lit up Lacey, going on a 21-13 spurt. Valeriani drained his fourth three-pointer of the quarter with 1:32 to go to push the Rams’ lead to 16, and made it a 15-point contest, 52-37, five seconds into the fourth with his sixth trey from 21 feet away at the center of the arc.
Valeriani tied Maloney’s mark with a 22-footer with 6:08 to go. But as time wound down and the Rams pushed their lead past the 20-point distance, head coach Eric Fierro began signaling that it was near time to start substituting in more players.
“Lacey had a 2-3 zone going, and with his range Mark has the go-ahead to shoot the ball from wherever he believes he has an open shot,” Fierro said. “Our first look was to get the ball in the paint, but we were able to exploit them from outside. Mark has committed a lot of time and put in a lot of work for the benefit of our basketball program, so it was good to let him take a shot at the record. I’m glad he had the opportunities to shoot the ball down the stretch.”
As the clock ticked down to under three minutes, a wild flurry – during which Valeriani first fired a shot from the left wing, followed his miss and grabbed the rebound and then turned around from the right wing and took another three-point attempt that missed – led to Valeriani ending up with the ball along the right baseline. His next attempt hit nothing but net to make it 68-47 and he pumped his fist in celebration as the crowd roared.
Valeriani has made 59 three-pointers this season and leads the team in scoring with 370 points for an average of 16 per game. Valeriani, Cipriani and classmates Matt Mershon, Connor Ciliberto and Billy Howard were the starting crew in the final home game of the careers on Monday.
Now 9-14, the Rams will go on the road three more times this week as they start building for the future.
“Our seniors were great this season,” Fierro said. “When we were 3-11, these guys could have wrecked the rest of the season for us. They could have called it quits and stopped being the leaders of the team. But they didn’t. They stuck together and showed the younger guys why it’s important to keep going.
“We didn’t really do anything different from a basketball perspective. We tweaked, made some adjustments and stuck together. And then they started winning some games. I’m proud of them for that.”
— David Biggy