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TOMS RIVER - The Manasquan boys basketball team has been just fine in the 13 games it has had to play without star forward Alex Galvan but you would not have known it during the first half of Thursday's Shore Conference Tournament semifinal game against fourth-seeded Holmdel.

The top-seeded Warriors scored only 19 points in the first half and Galvan carried the offense by scoring 14 of them to go with eight rebounds.

With their hopes of the program's first Shore Conference Tournament title since 1957 on life support with 9:45 left in the game, the rest of the Warriors came to life and showed why they have been the Shore's best team all year by overcoming arguably their toughest opponent of the year.

Galvan finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in his return from a five-game absence due to a shin bruise, but it was sophomore Ben Roy, junior Connor Walsh and Manasquan's airtight defense that rallied the Warriors back from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to upend Holmdel, 44-40.

Manasquan senior Alex Galvan. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Manasquan senior Alex Galvan. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Manasquan is headed back to the SCT championship game for the second straight year and will face No. 3 Toms River North Saturday, 7 p.m., at OceanFirst Bank Center on the campus of Monmouth University.

"A lot of people were saying this was our tournament to lose and we really felt like we were losing it during those first three quarters," Galvan said. "As soon as we kind of stepped it up and said, 'Let's go, it's game time,' we started getting back into it."

Roy finished with 14 points, including 11 in the second half to spark the comeback. Walsh, meanwhile, delivered six of his eight points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of free throws with six seconds left that put the game away.

Walsh putting the game away on the free-throw line seemed like a far-fetched notion with 1:45 left to play in the third quarter, when Holmdel junior Alex Baker backed his way to the basket on the left block and finished to put the Hornets ahead, 36-26.

Manasquan, however, got the deficit down to eight before the end of the quarter on Galvan's only bucket of the second half and got set to turn in one of its best defensive stretches of the season over the next eight minutes.

"We were struggling a little bit," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said. "We couldn't put together two or three plays and make runs. Credit Holmdel, obviously. In the fourth quarter, we changed some things defensively and were able to get some stops."

"We were waiting for things to happen instead of cutting and moving without the ball," Galvan said. "We weren't playing basketball. We were just playing one-on-one and that's what they (Holmdel) wanted because they were just doubling every time we got the ball inside."

Galvan's basket was the start of a 14-0 run that including a stretch of 7:45 in which Manasquan held Holmdel scoreless. Roy scored six points during the run and after Galvan hit Walsh on a give-and-go for the tying layup, Roy gave the Warriors the 38-36 lead on a floater in the lane.

Senior Kieran Flanagan - who was scoreless heading into the fourth - scored two baskets during the run, including a finish off a Galvan feed to cap the 14-0 run.

Holmdel senior Jack Giamanco ended the run with a long three-pointer from the top of the key with two minutes left that cut Manasquan's lead to 40-39.

Baker came up with a steal on the next Manasquan position, but Giamanco misfired on a three-point attempt on the offensive end. Walsh then hit a pair of free throws with 1:03 left to push the Warriors lead to 42-39 and Holmdel again failed to cash in on offense - this time missing a pair of three-pointers to bookend a missed front-end of a 1-and-1 by Giamanco with 44 seconds left.

Galvan gave Holmdel hope when he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 12 seconds left and senior Doug Chan hit one of two free throws with eight seconds left to cut the lead to two. That set the stage for Walsh, who calmly sank both ends of a 1-and-1 in the final seconds to put the game out of reach.

Holmdel shot just one free throw over the first three quarters and in the fourth quarter, the Hornets shot 1-for-5 from the line when they finally earned a handful of opportunities from the charity stripe. Manasquan finished 12-for-15 from the line, with Roy (4-for-5) and Walsh (6-for-6) combining to go 10-for-11.

"Our kids know how good Manasquan is and they know what it takes to come out and just be able to compete with them," Holmdel coach Sean Devaney said. "I'm really proud of them for how they came out. They played to win. They played to win the game and Manasquan made a few more plays than us down the stretch. We made a couple mistakes but it was never for lack of effort."

Giamanco led Holmdel with 13 points off the bench, including a four-point play to end the first half. The senior guard banked in a 24-footer as he was bumped by Flanagan, then hit the free throw to give Holmdel a 24-19 lead heading into the break.

Galvan had to carry the load for a Manasquan team that turned the ball over 14 times in one half and shot 1-for-8 outside of the 6-7 senior.

"It was almost all putbacks," Bilodeau said. "We were trying to not just go to him and get some rhythm without forcing it to him. We had some shots but they didn't go in. Thank god we got some putbacks out of the them."

Senior Pete Cannizzo added 10 points for Holmdel, including the first six of the game. Holmdel scored the first nine points of the game and held Manasquan without a point until Galvan hit one of two free throws with 1:08 left in the first quarter.

Holmdel senior Pete Cannizzo looks for an open teammate while guarded by Manasquans Ben Roy left) and Alex Galvan right). Photo by Paula Lopez)
Holmdel senior Pete Cannizzo looks for an open teammate while guarded by Manasquans Ben Roy (left) and Alex Galvan (right). (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Thursday's game was awfully reminiscent of Manasquan's 46-40 win at Holmdel on Jan. 30, almost right down to the final score. Galvan also returned from an injury hiatus in that game, coming back to score 18 points after missing eight straight with a sprained ankle.

Manasquan also leaned heavily on Galvan to win after trailing at halftime, but it was the second half in which Galvan scored 15 of his 18 points to help the Warriors rally from a three-point deficit at the break.

"They are very, very good," Bilodeau said of Holmdel. "They are very well-prepared. In both games, the scenario was Al coming back for the first time and we played differently. The spacing is different with him on the court. Getting that out of the way helped."

The two Class A Central rivals could meet one more time if each can win three games in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II section, which would set up a sectional championship game in Manasquan between the top-seeded Warriors and second-seeded Hornets.

"If we are lucky enough to win three more, maybe we'll see them again," Devaney said. "But we have to worry about our next game before we start thinking about Manasquan."

Galvan said he was medically cleared to play on Tuesday and after practicing for the first time in nearly three weeks on Wednesday, he felt good enough to once again return in time to break Holmdel's heart.

"He is really, really good," Devaney said of Galvan. "For us, he is the single most dominant player we have played against this year. We have seen him three times now and I wish I was smart enough to come up with an answer for what to do with him. He was the difference tonight, I thought."

Saturday's championship game will also be a rematch, with Manasquan looking to beat Toms River North for a second time this season. The Warriors rode a strong fourth quarter to beat the Mariners, 78-63, on Dec. 30 in the WOBM Christmas Classic championship game in Toms River. Both Galvan and Roy scored 25 points, with Galvan adding 15 rebounds and five assists in that win.

"It's not the same game," Bilodeau said. "They're not the same team, we're not the same team, so it's going to be much different."

Galvan, Roy and Flanagan were starters on last year's SCT finalist, which lost to Ranney, 70-60, and was down by four points early in the fourth quarter against the team that finished the year No. 1 in the state.

"We are in the exact same position (Ranney) was last year," Galvan said. "We can't overlook anybody. Whether it was Toms River North, who we beat or (Red Bank Catholic) who we beat twice, we have to be as prepared as possible if we want to finish this.

"I like like that gym and any championship game, no matter where it is, you're going to be pumped to play in it."

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