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MANASQUAN - In its toughest challenge within the Shore Conference this season, it took the Manasquan boys basketball team three quarters to snap into form in surviving a scare vs. Holmdel in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.

Against the same opponent Tuesday - the fourth meeting between the two Shore Conference Class A division rivals this season - Manasquan didn't need quite so long to find its championship form.

After another fast start by Holmdel, top-seeded Manasquan took over the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game in the second quarter and did not relent, beating the No. 2 Hornets, 53-38, to capture its second consecutive sectional title and third in the last five years.

"We are very impressed with this group," said Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau, who has directed the program to four Central Group II titles in 12 seasons. "Being number one in the Shore from start-to-finish and being able to play with pressure - that's not something we're unfamiliar with here. We're successful because we have great kids, and that's what it's all about, but these guys have impressed us with their ability to play with pressure throughout the year."

Photo by Matt Manley

Seniors Kieran Flanagan and Alex Galvan each scored 12 points to lead a balanced overall offensive attack by Manasquan, with Flanagan also added three first-half assists and Galvan grabbing eight rebounds. Holmdel shut down Galvan in the first half, holding the 6-foot-7 senior to one point on two shot attempts while he operated with two fouls. Galvan then came back with 11 points in the second half to help the Warriors pull away.

"He wasn't really in there in the second quarter because of the two fouls but in the first half, we didn't do a very good job of feeding the post," Bilodeau said. "Thank god we did it better in the second half."

"I feel like they have been physical in every game," Galvan said. "Whether it's just a smack of the ball, a little shove that the ref doesn't see, but they did a good job. I just have to keep moving if I'm not getting the ball. Obviously, I wasn't moving enough if I couldn't get it."

Despite Galvan's quiet first half, Manasquan shook off Holmdel's 13-6 first-quarter advantage by putting together a big second quarter on both ends of the floor. After Holmdel inched its lead to 14-6, the Warriors ripped off an 18-3 run, including 11 straight points to end the second quarter and grab a 24-17 lead at the break.

"We knew they were going to come out with a bunch of energy," Flanagan said. "They are fighting for a state championship too. We just had to absorb it and then come back stronger."

During the first half, Flanagan, sophomore Ben Roy and junior Jack Collins each scored six points while the defense found another gear in the second quarter. Roy finished with 10 points, Collins poured in nine and junior Casey Mulligan also chipped in eight points.

"Holmdel did a really good job again of taking away passing lanes, Bilodeau said. "He let Ben go a little bit in the first quarter to break them down and I thought he did a good job of that.

"They did a good job of taking Casey and Kieran away so we let Ben go a little bit. Then they kind of flipped to where they were working Ben real hard and that opened some things up for Casey and Kieran."

For the second straight game, Manasquan's front court quieted Holmdel junior forward and leading scorer Alex Baker, who scored six points Tuesday night, just as he did in the 44-40 Manasquan win in the SCT semifinals. Baker scored six points in the first half and led the defensive effort on Galvan but did not score in the second half.

Senior Derek Chan led Holmdel with nine points and no other Hornets player, other than Galvan, scored more than five.

With Tuesday's win, Manasquan is just about assured of finishing undefeated against Shore Conference teams this season, unless the Warriors were to somehow play Wall in the Tournament of Champions and lose that game. Twenty of Manasquan's 31 wins have come against Shore Conference teams and four of those 20 have come against Holmdel. The two games in Manasquan's home gym saw the Warriors handle the Hornets by an average margin of 21 points while the other two games - one at Holmdel and another on a neutral court - were decided by an average of five.

"It's a tough thing to do, especially against a team like Holmdel, who our guys think is one of the best teams we have played all year," Bilodeau said of sweeping the Hornets. "It's tough."

Manasquan will take its 31-1 record and 21-game winning streak to Toms River and the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena Thursday night to take on Camden - the state top-ranked team, according to NJ.com. The Panthers have not lost to an opponent from New Jersey and will head east to Toms River with a 24-game winning streak.

"We knew based on our paths that we would have a chance to meet them but we didn't really want to look to far ahead," Flanagan said. "We have been looking at a little bit of film but not totally because it wasn't our next game. Now, it's our next game, so we're going to get on the film tonight and tomorrow after school."

The winner of Thursday's game will have a real chance to become the first public school to win a Tournament of Champions title since Camden did it in 2000 and while Manasquan faces some frustrating recent history in the Group II semifinal as well as an imposing opponent, the Warriors are excited for the chance to measure themselves against the state's best.

"It's a great opportunity and our guys haven't shied away from any opportunities yet," Bilodeau said. "We'll be prepared and our guys will be very much looking forward to it."

"Obviously, we don't see ourselves as the underdog, but many people see us as the underdog," Galvan said. "That should relieve the pressure and allow us to go out and just compete against the number one team in the state."

Box Score

Manasquan 53, Holmdel 38

1234F
Holmdel (23-5)13491238
Manasquan (30-1)618121753

Holmdel (38): Eric Hinds 2 1-3 5, Derek Chan 4 0-0 9, Alex Baker 2 2-3 6, Pete Cannizzo 1 0-0 3, Doug Chan 1 0-0 2, Jack Giamanco 2 0-0 5, Ryan Bradley 1 0-0 3, John Curreri 1 3-6 5. Totals: 14 6-12 38

Three-pointers: Derek Chan, Cannizzo, Giamanco, Bradley

Manasquan (53): Kieran Flanagan 3 6-8 12, Ben Roy 4 2-3 10, Tim McEneny 0 0-0 0, Alex Galvan 3 6-9 12, Casey Mulligan 2 3-4 8, Connor Walsh 1 0-1 2, Jack Collins 2 3-5 9, Max O'Shaughnessy 0 0-0 0, Hayden Kunz 0 0-0 0, Andrew Soloman 0 0-0 0, Matt Soloman 0 0-0 0, Pat Woodford 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 20-30

Three-pointers: Mulligan, Collins 2