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PERTH AMBOY - If the Manasquan boys basketball team was hoping for a feeling-out period to open its NJSIAA Group II semifinal against Camden on Wednesday night, the Warriors barely had time to read the name on the front of the Panthers' jerseys before the defending Group II runner-up was up by double digits.

Eventually, Manasquan settled into the game and made a run, but Camden's red-hot start was too much. The Panthers staved off Warriors rallies in the final three quarters and closed out Manasquan, 64-49, to advance to their second straight Group II final against Newark Tech, which beat Camden in last year's championship game.

"We finished strong," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said. "I thought they gave a good account of themselves today. We didn't play great, but a lot of credit to (Camden). Holy hell, do they give you a lot (to deal with)."

Ryan Jensen (32) and Manasquan lost control of their Group II semifinal against Camden early on and a hard fight back into the the game came up short. (Photo by Larry Muprhy, Sports Pix NJ)

Camden began the game on a 13-2 run and led by as many as 17 in the first quarter before taking a 29-14 advantage into the second. Jamal Holloway and Brad Hawkins each hit two threes during the run, which accounted for four of Camden's five three-point baskets in the game.

Behind a 12-point half by senior Kyle Bradshaw off the bench and an improved job keeping Camden to one shot per possession in the second quarter, Manasquan cut the lead to 35-26 by halftime. After the Panthers blitzed them for nearly 30 points in the first eight minutes, the Warriors held Camden to six points in the second.

"We didn't expect them to come out that hot shooting the ball," Bradshaw said. "The scouting report was that they were all really athletic and an offensive rebounding team. We didn't expect them to get that hot from three and that's what kind of dug us a hole that we couldn't quite get out of."

The Warriors continued to chop away at the lead and cut their deficit to 35-30 on a transition basket by junior Jack Sheehan as he was fouled. Sheehan missed a chance to cut the Camden lead to four by missing the free throw, a trend that would haunt Manasquan in the second half.

Camden built its lead back up to 48-34 early in the fourth before Manasquan made one last push to get back in the game. The Warriors went on an 11-4 run to pull within 52-45, keyed by four points each by Sheehan and Ryan Jensen.

Jensen then stole the ball to give Manasquan a chance to cut further into the lead, but the Panthers came up with a stop and a Jamal Holloway lay-up put the Panthers back up by nine and began an 8-0 Camden run that sealed the game.

"They are a little like us in that they are built around defense and rebounding," Jensen said. "They got off to a great start and hit some shots early that we just never were able to get to go. It says a lot about us that we kept fighting and never gave up. That's all you can do, and I'm really proud of our guys for the way we fought."

Bradshaw finished with 21 points off the bench to lead Manasquan, while Jensen added 16 points and Sheehan chipped in eight. Hawkins led Camden with a game-high 23 points while Will McCants poured in 14 and Holloway netted 13 in the win, which was the 600th in the career of head coach John Valore. Now in his second season at Camden, Valore spent 35 years as the head coach at Cherry Hill East.

Kyle Bradshaw scored 21 points to lead Manasquan Wednesday in a Warriors loss to Camden. (Photo by Larry Murphy, Sports Pix NJ)

Against a Camden team that Bilodeau and Jensen both said was the most athletic they had seen this season, Manasquan did not shoot the ball well enough to counter Camden's physical advantages. The Warriors shot 0-for-7 from three-point range and just 9-for-20 from the free-throw line.

"I thought they did a great job of defending the three-point line," Bilodeau said. "We were able to get some offense in the paint at times, but trying to come back, we probably could have used some outside shooting, but it just wasn't there against their defense."

In the second half, Manasquan went 3-for-13 from the line and missed its last seven attempts of the game.

"You need 20 free-throw attempts to have a chance to beat them," Bilodeau said. "We were able to get those 20, which was great, but we just didn't convert nearly enough of them, which could have been due to the fact that we expended so much energy trying to get back in the game. The amount of work it takes to fight them on the boards and defend their guards and break their pressure, it definitely wears on you and I'm sure that didn't help us when we got to the line late in the game."

Wednesday's loss capped a season in which the Warriors won a share of the Shore Conference Class A Central division championship, reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and captured the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II sectional championship. Manasquan has now won at least a share of a division title and reached the SCT quarterfinals in five of the last seven seasons and the sectional crown was the second in the seven seasons Bilodeau has been at the helm. The Warriors last won a sectional title in 2009.

"This season was unbelievable," said Bradshaw, who transferred to Manasquan from Monmouth Regional for his final high school season and missed a chunk of it due to a foot injury. "Winning a state championship and getting to experience playing in a program like this is something I'll never forget. I loved playing with these guys and it was an honor to represent Manasquan basketball."

"This just isn't a team that gives up," said Jensen, who will return next season, along with fellow junior starter Sheehan. "We keep fighting and the guys who are still here, we're going to keep fighting. I wouldn't want to go to battle with anyone else."

 

Box Score

Camden 64, Manasquan 49

1

2

3

4

F

Camden (25-6)

29

6

11

18

64

Manasquan (22-7)

14

12

8

15

49

 

Camden (64): Will McCants 5 2-3 14, Brad Hawkins 7 7-8 23, Myles Thompson 3 0-0 6, Jamal Holloway 6 1-6 13, Rasool Hinson 3 1-3 8, Tory Whiting 0 0-1 0, Sheron Johnson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 11-21 64

Three-pointers: McCants 2, Hawkins 2, Hinson

Manasquan (49): Jack Sheehan 2 4-8 8, Luke O’Shaughnessy 0 2-3 2, Ryan Jensen 8 0-2 16, Matt Paturzo 0 0-1 0, Aidan McMenaman 1 0-0 2, Kyle Bradshaw 9 3-6 21, Tommy Sheehan 0 0-0 0, Shane Flannagan 0 0-0 0, Liam McAllister 0 0-0 0, Dan Mopsick 0 0-0 0, Brian Paturzo 0 0-0 0, Tom Miles 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 9-20 49

Three-pointers: None