TOMS RIVER - Most teams facing a scorer like Manasquan's Devin Jensen have to alter the gameplan to contain him or pick out a designated defensive stopper to shadow him while on the floor.

Freehold Township did neither of those things against the Shore Conference's leading scorer in Thursday's WOBM Christmas Classic semifinals. The result was another win in a perfect start to the season.

The Patriots employed their usual fullcourt pressure while running nearly their entire rotation at Jensen in a 54-39 win over the Warriors that pushes them into Friday's WOBM final against Toms River North. After entering play averaging 28.4 points per game, Jensen managed only 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting from the floor against a stifling Freehold Township defense.

"Everything we do starts with defense," senior Ryan Zyskowski said. "It's all we do in practice and it's what preach in pregame and at halftime. We're a defense-first team - that's how we approach every game and that's how we approached this game."

From left: Bobby Weise, Greg Billups and Ryan Cardone were part of the effort that held Manasquan's Devin Jensen to 10 points. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Zyskowski led Freehold Township (6-0) with 18 points off the bench after he was held out of the starting lineup for missing a practice earlier in the week. The senior also hauled in 12 rebounds and ended up guarding Jensen on several switches.

That was a common theme to Freehold Township's defense against Manasquan's most dangerous scoring threat. Senior Ryan Cardone and sophomore Greg Billups spent most of the game picking Jensen up once the game settled into the half court, but the Patriots were not afraid to switch on screens and allow any of the five players on the floor at any given time check the 6-4 swingman.

"The plan was to just get in on him," Cardone said. "Double him up when he got the ball and get the ball out of his hands. We felt like that was our best chance to hold him under 20."

The result was a frustrating day for Jensen and the Warriors, both of whom got off to a promising start. Jensen hit his first two shot attempts - both three-pointers - and Manasquan (4-2) jumped out to a 12-6 lead and a 15-14 advantage by the end of the first quarter.

Freehold Township, however, held the Warriors to just three points in the second quarter and eight in the third while hounding Jensen into 14 consecutive missed shot attempts. After knocking down a three-pointer with a little under six minutes left in the first, Jensen did not make another shot from the floor under he buried a three-pointer with 15.7 seconds left in the game - a nearly-30 minute stretch of game without a field goal for the Shore's leading scorer so far.

"We felt like with our matchups, anybody on our team can cover him," Cardone said. "We're big in the starting lineup - everybody's over six foot. We just felt like anybody could guard him if we needed them to."

Zyskowski led the Patriots with nine points at halftime and came out of the locker room on fire. He scored seven of Freehold Township's 10 points in the first 2:30 of the third quarter without missing a shot and assisted a three-pointer by Cardone to account for the other three points. The Patriots began the third on a 12-3 run to stretch their lead to 36-21.

Billups, Cardone and senior Bobby Weise all scored nine points apiece to back up Zyskowski's scoring. Billups added 12 rebounds and four assists, Cardone had five rebounds and three steals and Weise pitched in six rebounds, three assists and two steals.

"Instead of one player who runs the offense and sets most of our shots up, we share the ball a lot more and a lot of different people are scoring and finishing plays," Zyskowski said of Freehold Township's offensive evolution this season since losing last year's All-Shore point guard Nick Facendo to graduation. "All of us can score, all of us can finish, we're all pretty good passers and we can all handle a little bit."

Senior Seamus Hogan added nine points for Manasquan, which continues to play without returning starter Brian Paturzo. Paturzo suffered an left ankle injury in a loss to Long Branch on Dec. 22 and is expected to miss another three-to-four weeks.

Thursday's win secures the first ever trip to the WOBM final for Freehold Township, which will take on top-seeded Toms River North in Friday's championship game at 7:30 p.m.

"We want this badly," Cardone said. "This is the first time our school's been in the championship. Toms River North is an excellent team and we're going to have to play defense again like we did today."

 

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