MILLVILLE (N.J.) - A majority of the Mainland Regional High School boys basketball team is adjusting to the transition from the gridiron to the hardwood.
Four out of the Mustangs' starting five players, and several other rotation guys, were members of the school's football team that reached the NJSIAA Group 4 state semifinals.
The adjustment has been evidenced by slow starts in victories over Absegami and Eastern.
No. 7 Mainland stumbled out the gates again before an18-9 third quarter spurt propelled it past No. 8 Millville, 46-31, in a Cape-Atlantic League showdown on Wednesday night.
2022 South Jersey Sports Zone All-South Jersey Third Team selection Cohen Cook scored nine of his game-high 19 points in the third quarter to establish separation after both teams entered the locker room tied at 17-17. Cook scored 14 in the second half. The junior also capitalized on back-to-back possessions to establish a 25-21 lead for Mainland and converted on an old-school three-point play to contribute to a 14-2 run in the third quarter.
"Cohen kind of broke out in that quarter," teammate Tim Travagline said.
The 14-2 run was punctuated by a monstruous slam dunk by junior Jamie Tyson with two minutes left in the third quarter.
Millville cut its deficit to six points in the fourth quarter, but an 11-2 spurt for Mainland sealed the triumph.
Travagline chipped in 17 points and paced the Mustangs in the first half with acrobatic finishes at the rim, and consistent shooting off the dribble and through the utilization of screens from teammates. His 10 points led all scorers at intermission and accounted for more than half of Mainland's scoring input in the opening half.
"I've just been working," Travagline said. "My teammates - they always find a way to get me open. We just gel very good together."
The junior has helped shoulder the workload as his teammates transition over from football. Travagline, a basketball-only athlete, is averaging 17.3 points per game.
"Last year he was more of a shooter," Mainland coach Dan Williams said. "Now he's handling the ball, scoring at the rim, he's shooting, he's defending well. He played the back of the zone at times when Mawali (Osunniyi) came out and he's rebounding pretty tough. For 5'11", to rebound the way he does, he's a good athlete and a really good basketball player."
The Mustangs are also adjusting to a new identity. The team made a surprise run to the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament final last season and knocked off St. Augustine, 58-56, in overtime to capture the program's first ever conference title. This year, the players know they have targets on their backs.
"We're expecting everybody's best," Williams said. "I think the difference is we have a bunch of guys that are a really confident crew right now."
Khalon Foster paced the Thunderbolts with a team-high eight points. Jabbar Barriento contributed seven off the bench and point guard Raquan Ford added six.
Millville was held to 14 points in the second half and didn't score more than nine points in a single quarter.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game," Millville coach Michael LaTorre said. "They're so well-coached, they execute their stuff so good. They got a lot of guys that return from last year so a lot of continuity, too.
Millville dropped its record to 3-1 and will look to recuperate against No. 9 Middle Township on Friday.
"We want to be battle-tested," LaTorre said. "This is a game we didn't have to play. We decided we wanted to play them. Same on Friday, we play Middle and it's not a conference game. We want to be ready for the playoffs when it matters."