Boys Basketball – Dominant Defense Carries Manasquan to Shore Conference Semifinal
MIDDLETOWN -- Sophomore Darius Adams and junior Ryan Frauenheim have been the offensive catalysts for the Manasquan boys basketball team and the two standouts showed out again Saturday for the top-seeded in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals against Rumson-Fair Haven.
Sophomore Griffin Linstra had a more forgettable game on offense: he did dish out five assists, but did not score a point and fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.
In a game that saw Manasquan unflinchingly defend minute-plus long possession by Rumson-Fair Haven and hold an opponent to 30 points, however, Linstra's value to the team comes into focus. While Adams has been a game-changing scorer since his first game as a freshman last season, Linstra has been the same for Manasquan's defense, which has blossomed into a dominant outfit around the 6-foot-4 sophomore.
"For me to say this is a lot: he is one of the best defensive players we have had and we have had some beauties," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said of Linstra. "He is so tough and so strong and so adaptable -- he guards bigs, perimeter guys, point guards, whatever. He is just phenomenal. He is so valuable and so important to everything that we do."
"For Manasquan basketball, it doesn't matter how we're scoring all the points; it's all about defense and intensity," Linstra said. "When we get stops, our bench goes nuts like it's the most exciting thing ever. We have great fans and I think it's the defense that fuels all of that. It's a lot of fun to play for a team that plays that way. It's the identity of the program."
That team defense was on full display Saturday in Manasquan's 57-30 drubbing of No. 9 Rumson-Fair Haven, with the Warriors holding the Bulldogs to three first-quarter points and 11 first-half points before blowing the game open in the third quarter.
"We're still a young team," Bilodeau said. "Defensively, they have come a long way. That has always been a thing for us. It's where we start and end with, and I would say they have developed really, really well. It's a psyche more than anything else."
Adams scored 19 points and added nine rebounds and three steals, while Frauenheim buried 4-of-6 three-point attempts on the way to 12 points and four assists for Manasquan. Senior Jack Dettlinger also threw in 10 points for Manasquan and junior Alex Konov hit a pair of timely three-pointers in the victory.
All that offense helped Manasquan gain separation from Rumson, but the Warriors defense set the tone early and throughout Saturday's third SCT quarterfinal at Middletown High School South. Rumson tried to slow the game down, limit the number of possessions Manasquan's potent offense got, and make the Warriors guard the Bulldogs for a minute each possession.
"We'll play any way you want to play," Bilodeau said. "We stayed in a stance, we guarded every possession. It's that time of year when every possession matters and in a game of that tempo, even more so."
"We have played a tough schedule where we have played against every type of scheme a team could throw at us, so we were ready," Linstra said. "We ready to get in a stance and the bench did a great job keeping us energized and locked in. Our team is so versatile, I think we can play any style of offense or defense we need to. We could see a different team every night and we don't need a lot of time to game plan for whatever we're going to see."
The strategy was more-or-less working through the first 11-plus minutes, as a three-pointer by Bulldogs sophomore Luke Schorr cut the Manasquan lead to 14-11 as halftime approached.
The Warriors, however, scored the final five points of the half with a pair of free throws by Adams and a long three-pointer by Frauenheim, which turned out to be the start of a 17-0 run that was the knockout punch to end Rumson's challenge. By the end of that run, Manasquan built a comfortable 31-11 cushion and never led by fewer than 16.
Senior Mason Yablonski led Rumson with 12 points and Schorr finished with nine in the loss.
Adams finished one point shy of logging his sixth straight game with at least 20 points, but it continued a recent trend of high-scoring performances by the sophomore. Over Manasquan's last 10 games, Adams is averaging 23.8 points after scoring 17.1 points per game over the Warriors' first 24.
"The ball goes where it goes once you shoot it," Bilodeau said. "Certain nights, depending on how they play you, different guys are going to have their time. Ryan had 30 a few games ago. We played Roselle Catholic and Alex Konov had 21. The ball goes where it goes and we have some capable guys, so we just say 'move it.' That's all we tell them. We don't really look for guys. That's not what we do."
Saturday's game rekindled a rivalry that was put on hold over the past two seasons, with both Manasquan and Rumson moving out of the Class A Central division that both used to occupy. Manasquan also played in Group III during last season's state tournament after being a perennial Central Jersey Group II contender along with Rumson. With the teams in separate brackets a season ago, Manasquan won the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title while Rumson took home the Central Group II championship.
Manasquan will now face No. 4 Raritan in the SCT semifinals Tuesday at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River with its collective eye set on advancing to the Shore Conference championship game for the fifth straight season. Saturday marked the 12th straight season in which Manasquan has participated in the SCT quarterfinals and 14th time in the 15 seasons since Bilodeau took the job.
Prior to 2018-19, Manasquan had not been to the SCT final under Bilodeau, but since losing to Ranney in that championship game, the Warriors have never failed to reach the championship game. They won the 2020 Shore Conference title for the first time in in six decades and followed that up by winning the modified Shore Conference playoffs during the COVID-shortened 2021 season.
"We have the DNA to get to these big games," Linstra said. "We have guys like Ryan Jensen who were great players here and who I looked up to growing up coming into the locker room after every game and it's amazing to have that connection with the guys who came before us."
"It's a testament to how good a players we have had," Bilodeau said. "Part of what makes the high-school basketball experience great is if you can play deep into this part of the season and our guys have been fortunate to get a taste of that quite a bit, so we've been fortunate to have those kind of players."