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HOLMDEL - For three weeks, the Manasquan boys basketball team played without senior standout Alex Galvan and managed to not only survive, but to thrive.

On Thursday night against Holmdel - the No. 5 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and newly-minuted No. 18 team in the NJ.com Top 20 - the Warriors looked like a team that needed Galvan to win. Good thing for them he made his return to the lineup just in time.

Galvan came off the bench, shook off some rust in the first half and dominated both ends of the floor in posting 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks as No. 1 Manasquan held off Holmdel in its toughest Shore Conference challenge to date, 46-40.

Tuesday marked the second time these two Class A Central rivals have played this season and in the first meeting - a 67-40 home win for Manasquan - Galvan sustained an ankle injury that kept him out for eight games. During that stretch, Manasquan went 7-1 with its lone loss coming to perennial state power Roselle Catholic, 45-43.

"Watching every game has been tough," Galvan said. "Watching the Roselle Catholic game from the bench, watching Rumson the other night - I just wanted to be out there, but I just had to make sure I was ready.

"I'm a little out of shape right now after all the time off, but the ankle feels good. I think I'll be back to normal in a couple weeks."

Galvan suited up but did not play in Manasquan's 40-30 win over Rumson-Fair Haven on Monday and started Thursday on the bench before entering within the first two minutes.

Holmdel held Galvan without a field goal in the first half but the 6-foot-7 senior came alive on the offensive end in the second half, scoring 15 of his points after halftime.

"It took me a little bit in the beginning just to feel like it was real," Galvan said. "It almost felt like I wasn't even really playing at first but once I got into it, I felt fine."

After trailing, 21-20, at halftime and by as many as four points in the third quarter, Manasquan surged in front by the end of the third quarter behind Galvan and sophomore Ben Roy, who finished with 11 points and three assists.

Manasquan extended its lead to 40-32 thanks to a three-point play and a putback by senior Kieran Flanagan, which was part of his eight points and four assists for the game.

Holmdel, however, had one last push left and ripped off a 10-1 run to pull within a point, with senior Doug Chan nailing a three-pointer to cut the Manasquan lead to 41-40 and raise the noise-level in Holmdel's gym to its highest level of the night.

"They are a very well-coached team," said Galvan of Holmdel, led by veteran head coach Sean Devaney. "They're scrappy, they never give up and honestly, they are very physical. (The referees) can't call a foul on every play, so they (Holmdel) are going to get away with a bunch of stuff."

Galvan answered with a strong move inside to push the lead back to three and after a long Holmdel possession, the Warriors made a key defensive stop.

Holmdel junior Alex Baker stole the ball with under 30 seconds and senior Jack Giamanco got a clean look from the top of the key, but his potential game-tying three-pointer came up short. Chan tracked down the offensive rebound and got the ball back to Giamanco for another three-point attempt, but Galvan altered the shot and it came up well short.

Galvan still had to put the game away on the free-throw line with 5.3 seconds left and missed the front end of the 1-and-1. Warriors junior Connor Walsh, however, tipped the ball back to Galvan, who finished as he was fouled to effectively put the game out of reach on the ensuing free throw.

Giamanco led Holmdel with 14 points, including a trio of three-pointers and a big three-point play that cut Manasquan's lead to 40-37. Junior Alex Baker added 10 points and seven points while Chan chipped in eight points and three steals off the bench.

The Hornets defense shut down the interior during the first half, limiting Manasquan to 4-for-15 shooting with all four made field goals coming on three-point attempts.

"I thought we were terrible," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said. "Credit them (Holmdel) - they made us terrible. The ball didn't move, their defense was pretty solid.

This week, Manasquan has gone into the final minute against Rumson and Holmdel leading by one score after running up an average margin of victory of 29.4 in its first eight divisional games. During that eight-game stretch, and 18 point win over St. Rose was the closest margin of victory.

"You have a lot of moving parts with injuries and whatnot and you're playing good teams who are getting up to play (us)," Bilodeau said. "You're playing one of the best-coached teams in the state, the No. 18 team in the state, they are very good. That makes for a tough week."

Devaney has lost to Manasquan twice this season and five times in the past two seasons, but has been in Bilodeau's shoes before. He led Raritan to the Group II championship and an NJSIAA Tournament of Champions appearance in 2004, defeating Manasquan in the Group II final to get there.

"They are the best combination of talent and coaching that I have seen anywhere this year," Devaney said. "There are some teams that are well-coached, but none have the kind of talent they do, and then there are teams that have the talent, but they don't have that same cohesiveness that you see with this team. They remind me a lot of the teams we had at Raritan, just as far as having a really talented group that plays as a team."