By his own admission, Isaiah Sanders has "come a long way" since the start of the season.
The same could be said for his team.
Sanders, a junior forward, scored a career-high 31 points to power Timber Creek to an 80-66 victory over school-district rival Highland on Thursday night in a second-round game of the South Jersey Group 3 boys' basketball tournament.
Junior swingman Maurice Murray added 25 points with 12 rebounds for 10th-seeded Timber Creek (11-14), which scored its second straight road victory over a higher seed and advanced to the sectional semifinals Saturday at another school-distict rival, sixth-seeded Triton.
Triton upset third-seeded Ocean City, 52-50.
"There's energy, there's excitement, and Maurice and Isaiah are leading the way," Timber Creek coach Rich Bolds said.
Highland (20-6), the No. 2 seed, fell into a deep hole thanks to early foul trouble and couldn't recover despite 17 points from junior guard Zafir Brower and 13 points and 10 rebounds by junior forward Demola Dairo.
"The first thing on our board - 'Don't foul,' " Highland coach Joe Lewis said. "We knew we couldn't get in foul trouble or we would be in trouble.
"Three minutes left in the first quarter, and 'Zaf' and Dante [Masino] both have three fouls. It was crazy."
Behind 39-19 late in the first half, Highland cut the deficit to nine on three occasions in the fourth quarter.
But Timber Creek always responded, either with a Sanders dunk or a Murray dunk or a Murray put-back.
"I knew I had to step up in the fourth quarter for my team," said the 6-foot-5 Murray.
Murray's clutch play was nothing new for Timber Creek. The smooth athlete has been a key contributor for the Chargers since the start of his sophomore season.
Sanders' emergence has help Timber Creek leave a disappointing regular season in the past and take on the look of one of those dark horse teams that always seems to emerge, seemingly from nowhere, in the playoffs.
"They could be just like Winslow last year," Lewis said. "They are that talented. They could win this whole thing."
The 6-foot-3 Sanders saw limited varsity action as a freshmen and sophomore.
"I knew when he came in how talented he was," Bolds said. "He just needed experience, needed to get his confidence. That's the difference now - how much confidence he's playing with."
Sanders scored 10 in the first quarter, making a pair of three-pointers from the right corner.
"That's been my favorite spot since I was little," Sanders said.
By halftime, Sanders had hit another three-pointer and had 19 points as the Chargers went to the locker room with a 39-23 lead.
"They were keying on me, and that opened things up for Isaiah," Murray said. "Then he got hot, and that opened things up for me."
Lewis said Murray and Sanders, at their best, form one of South Jersey's top duos.
"When Isaiah gets going with [Murray], there's not a better tandem," Lewis said.
The soft-spoken Sanders downplays his own development, focusing instead on his team's improvement.
Asked how much better he is now than at the start of the season, Sanders said, "A lot. We all are."
Timber Creek 23 16 20 21 - 80
Highland 12 11 20 23 - 66
TC: Maurice Murray 25, Isaiah Sanders 31, Dylan Elliott 5, Ricky Martin 7, Jeohnni Moore 2, Sebastian Keene 6, Tim Schultice 4.
H: Zafir Brower 17, Gabe Villegas 5, Dave Gormley 13, Dante Masino 12, Demola Dario 13, Dan Cooper 6.