WEST LONG BRANCH – Manasquan was the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament, is ranked No. 1 in the Shore and sixth in the state and went 14-0 to capture the A Central division for a reason; they’re really, really good – with an exclamation point.
Saturday night at Monmouth University’s Ocean First Bank Center in the Shore Conference Tournament final against third-seeded Toms River North, the Warriors got the chance to show 3,000-plus spectators just how good they are in their 75-49 annihilation of the Mariners.
And believe it or not, the final score wasn’t even a true indication of just how dominant the Warriors were Saturday night from wire to wire.
The Warriors jumped out to an 8-0 lead and never looked back as they not only avenged their loss to Ranney in last year’s final but won the program’s first SCT championship in some 63 years.
Manasquan likes to run in the transition game and they ran the Mariners right out of the gym and into the cold winter night.
Toms River North’s 2-3 zone played right into the hands of Manasquan as did its preference for an up-tempo offense and the Warriors made them pay.
With just under two minutes left in the first quarter until the 3:26 mark of the first half, Manasquan went on a 17-0 run that pushed its lead to 32-7 that essentially put an early nail in the Mariners’ coffin.
Super sophomore Ben Roy, who was the game’s MVP, led the beat down of the Mariners dropping a career-high 31 points on 13-for-21 shooting, including 18 points in the second half as he continually deflated any hope Toms River North (24-4) had for a comeback, with dagger-like answers to anything resembling a Mariners rally.
“To be honest, it was to our advantage having played here last year and we knew the court a little bit and we really felt like the home team,” said Roy. “When we got up 8-0, we looked and the clock and said, ‘This is where it starts; let’s go off on this.’ So that’s what happened and we just kept the same intensity.
“I was definitely feeling it tonight,” Roy continued. “I was pumped up to be here, but it was only because of my teammates. They found me cutting to the baskets and in good spots, so I couldn’t have done what I did tonight without them.”
In last Thursday’s semifinal against Holmdel, the Warriors (27-1) struggled to get untracked against the Hornets’ relentless pressure defense, which forced 14 Manasquan first-half turnovers, until the fourth quarter when they outscored the Hornets, 16-4, to steal a dramatic 44-40 win.
They kept that intensity flowing into Saturday’s final from the opening tipoff up until head coach Andrew Bilodeau emptied his bench following a floater by Roy with 3:13 left in the game that gave them a 33-point lead, 75-42.
“I feel like we did a good job of taking the fourth quarter against Holmdel and carrying it over into this game,” said star forward Alex Galvan, who is one of the top pitchers in the state and is committed to the University of Louisville. “That was our thing going into this game. We didn’t want to sit back, relax and let them come to us. We wanted to go up by 20 and keep it that way.”
Roy and Galvan each scored four points in the game’s opening 8-0 run to set the tone of the night. Galvan, who finished with 17 points, a team-high nine rebounds and four blocked shots, had a thunderous dunk off an assist from senior point guard Kieren Flanagan during their 17-0 run that brought the crowd to its feet.
“It was important to jump on them early,” said Galvan. “We wanted to seal the deal from the get-go and not let them hang around with us.”
Flanagan ran the show to perfection finishing with a game-high seven assists to go along with 11 points, two rebounds, a blocked shot and a game-high five steals.
Roy had high praise for his team’s outstanding defensive effort against Toms River North, which had just scored 114 points in its quarterfinal win over Marlboro, but was held to 49 points Saturday night.
“Playing against Holmdel they really made us struggle offensively,” said Roy. “Our defense won us that game so we knew coming into this game defense was going to be huge and that really fed into our offense.”
Senior forward Tim McEneny had a monster game on defense for the Warriors. He was matched up for most the night with Mariners’ big man Najae Hallenbeck, who came into the game averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game, but was held to just six point and six boards.
“He was phenomenal,” said Bilodeau of McEneny’s work on Hallenback. “He did against Roselle Catholic, he did against St. Peter’s Prep and he did again tonight. I thought he was just marvelous. He did a great job on the glass too, as well as defending Najea.”
McEneny’s final stats weren’t flashy, finishing with four points, six rebounds and three assists but he was definitely an unsung hero in the game.
Galvan had a tremendous all-around game but it was his defense that really stood out. His four blocked shots and his three steals were indicative of just how tenacious he was on the defensive end.
“We were very disciplined on defense,” said Galvan. “We weren’t reaching and going for those highlight blocks and bailing them out. We have 6-5 guys who are going straight up, it’s not easy to score. Don’t bail them out, play good defense and that leads to offense.”
Junior guard Jack Collins, who was limited in Thursday’s semifinal after getting into early foul trouble, helped get the Warriors off to a blazing start on Saturday scoring all eight of his points in the first quarter when they built a 24-7 lead.
Shooting guard Casey Mulligan, the third senior on the starting five, had four points, including a big three-pointer to jump start the 17-0 run in first quarter, four rebounds, two assist and two steals.
Jakari Spence scored a team-high 24 points for Toms River North along with four rebounds and two assists.
The Warriors deserve a lot of credit for their endurance, among other things, throughout the season. They’ve passed every test that’s been thrown at them. They’ve had the bullseye on their backs since day one after being named the preseason No. 1 and have had to play almost half their games without Galvan, who’s battled a high ankle sprain and shin injuries. It’s almost as though they’re destined for greatness and this was only the beginning. Their road to the Tournament of Champions begins Tuesday as the first seed in a Central Jersey Group III first-round game against Metuchen.
“I have to give the guys a lot of credit,” Bilodeau said. “To have that pressure (as the No. 1 team) from day one and being able to maintain it, get to this point with one loss with the quality of schedule we’ve played I think is impressive. They showed a lot of mental toughness dealing with the pressure.”