HOLMDEL – Maybe it’s that they’re a Group II team or maybe it’s their style of play, but for whatever reason, Holmdel isn’t getting the respect and/or recognition it deserves despite being ranked No.2 in the Shore while quietly putting together one of the best seasons in program history.
“I kind of thought that for most of the year; I think most everyone was just waiting for us to lose,” Holmdel head coach Sean Devaney said of his team’s lack of recognition. “We’re not a flashy team. We’re not going to go out and score 75 or 80 points most nights. We’re kind of a grind-it-out team that can have some scoring droughts but that makes us dig in more defensively.
“I guess we’re not a real graceful basketball team where you watch us and say, ‘Wow.’ But we’re a big effort team, a big defensive team and we kind of scrap for everything we get. So, yeah, I think all year long our kids have played with a little bit of a chip.”
Holmdel’s 1998 and 1999 teams won Group II championships and that’s the goal of this year’s team. However, for them to duplicate that feat there are still quite a few obstacles they need to clear, and not getting too far ahead of themselves is one of them.
It is, however, only natural for them look ahead at a possible rematch with division foe and A Central champion Manasquan, a team that beat them three times this season, in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II final. But first they need to focus on just getting there – which they’ve done a good job at so far without a hitch.
As the two-seed in the CJGII tournament’s opening round, the Hornets destroyed 15th-seed Governor Livingston by 45 points. They then easily got past seventh-seed Roselle, 65-48, in Thursday’s quarterfinal to set up Saturday’s semifinal matchup with No. 6 Lincoln, which upset third-seeded Hillside to advance.
“We have to win Saturday before we can even think about Manasquan,” said Devaney. “We’ve still got a long way to go. Lincoln is a really good basketball team, they’re athletic and quick and they’ll present a lot of problems to us. If we don’t play well, we’ll lose; a lot can happen and there’s no tomorrow.”
If Holmdel (21-4) can get by Lincoln it will set up their fourth meeting against Manasquan, which is ranked No.1 in the Shore and sixth in New Jersey. Three of the Hornets’ four losses this season are to the Warriors and the only other blemish to its record is a one-point loss to Carteret (20-7) in the Huskies Holiday Classic.
Manasquan (28-1) holds an average 25-point scoring differential against opponents in their 28 wins but in their last two games against the Hornets they’ve managed to beat them by just six and four points, respectively. Nobody in the state has come close to hanging with Manasquan as Holmdel has in those two games.
“I guess, but we just kind of do what we do,” said Devaney when asked if he thought those two close games against the Warriors might’ve opened some eyes. “A lot of it is what we need to do for us and then what people say on the outside is up to them. Our responsibility is to go out and play the way we practice and then we let the chips fall where they may. This group has been very resilient, these games are hard for us and we just have to keep grinding and the guys don’t take anything for granted.”
In the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal against Manasquan, the Hornets led, 36-28, after three quarters before the Warriors went on a 16-4 run to close out the game in a heartbreaking 44-40 loss for the Hornets.
“That was brutal; there’s not many words you can say that would accurately describe how we all felt,” said Devaney of the loss. “Not to be arrogant, but we felt not only did we lose to Manasquan but we felt like we could’ve won the whole Shore Conference Tournament. And that’s no disrespect to anyone.”
Holmdel relies on a balanced scoring attack with two players averaging double-digits in scoring but no one over 14 points a game and two averaging nine-plus.
“That’s certainly not by design, it’s just kind of how it’s evolved,” said Devaney. “It’s also a reflection of our group as being very unselfish. We’ve been lucky though that we have a lot of different kids that can get double figures on any given night.”
Junior forward Alex Baker, the only starting underclassman on the team, is a 2020 second team Coaches All-Shore selection. The 6-foot-5 Baker, who averages 14 points and 11 rebounds, scored a combined 34 points in the SCT second round and quarterfinal rounds.
In Thursday’s quarterfinal win against Roselle, Baker dropped a game-high 19 points to lead the Hornets.
Senior guard Jack Giamanco is one of six seniors in the Hornets’ eight-man rotation. He is a Coaches second team All-A Central selection this season after averaging 13 points per game in the regular season.
Senior guards, brothers Doug and Derek Chan, are two-year starters and bring a wealth of experience to the backcourt while both averaging over nine points per game this season.
Against Roselle, Doug put up 15 points while Derek added six.
Senior guard Eric Hinds, averaging seven point per game, rounds out the starting five for the Hornets.
Junior forward Ryan Bradley has come on strong as of late scoring 19 points in the SCT second round and 13 points in the quarterfinal after averaging five points per game in the regular season. Senior guard and captain Peter Cannizzo (five points per game) and junior forward John Curreri (four points per game) round out the eight-man rotation.
“These guys are a quiet, confident group,” said Devaney. “There’s not just one player that jumps out. On any given night the sixth, seventh and eighth man can play more than the starters.”
“I know it’s very in vogue to say one game at a time, I know that’s what everyone says, but we started that since the beginning of the season,” said Devaney on keeping his players focused on Saturday’s game and not looking ahead. “I don’t think we’ve ever really looked far down the road at any point this season. They know Saturday’s a tough game so Manasquan seems way off in the distance.
“People ask me ‘Do you think you’re going to play Manasquan a fourth time’ and I tell them that Manasquan’s the least of our thoughts.”
If the Hornets do get another shot at the Warriors, whatever you do, don’t count them out.
UPDATE: Holmdel advanced to the CJGII final Saturday with a 60-57 win over Lincoln in a game that could’ve gone either way. After seeing a 14-point lead disappear, the Hornets found themselves trailing, 52-47, with 6:16 remaining in the game. Holmdel then forced three straight turnovers to ignite a 10-1 run to regain the lead for good, 57-53, with 2:19 left. Then, with 17.1 seconds left, a Hinds steal led to two free throws by Baker to ice the game and send the Hornets into round four with Manasquan, which beat Bordentown, 80-67. Baker had a monster game with 22 points, five boards, two assists, a block and two steals. Giamanco added 10 points and Hinds and Cannizzo each dropped eight points. Cannizzo also had team-highs in rebounds (7) and assists (4), while Hinds added a team-high five steals.