Boys Basketball – Manasquan Caps Third Straight Sectional Title With Dominant Display
MANASQUAN -- There were a lot of people ready to crown the Manasquan boys basketball team Shore Conference and NJSIAA sectional champions in 2024, perhaps even as early as 2023 before even catching a glimpse of the 2021-22 team.
The Warriors entered the year loaded with young talent, which was set to take front-and-center with star senior guard Ben Roy losing his final high school season to a torn ACL. With some time to grown and gel, the young core had the potential to be a force in the years to come.
That wasn't good enough for the Warriors. Understandably, it wasn't good enough for senior Matt Solomon, who assumed the leadership role as the lone returning senior rotation member from 2021.
It also wasn't good enough for sophomore point guard Ryan Frauenheim, a bench contributor on the 2021 team as a freshman. It was not good enough for Alex Konov, a sophomore who transferred from Wildwood Catholic ahead of the 2021-22 season.
And it was not good enough for freshmen starters Darius Adams and Griffin Linstra, not to mention the players off the bench like senior Dan Hyland and juniors Quinn Peters and Jack Dettlinger.
No, at Manasquan, waiting until next year is not an option, no matter the obstacles and no matter the odds, and thanks to yet another sparkling performance Tuesday night in front of a capacity home crowd, there will be no waiting for another championship at Manasquan.
Frauenheim led an offensive clinic with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field to go with four rebounds and five assists, part of a dominant, 71-46, win for the top-seeded Warriors over No. 2 Robbinsville in Tuesday's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship.
The sectional title is the third straight for Manasquan dating back to 2018 and considering the Warriors went 12-0 and and finished as the No. 2 ranked team in the state when there was not NJSIAA Tournament in 2021, this marks the fourth straight season with a championship for the Warriors.
"We heard everything at the beginning of the year: We’re too young, we’re missing this player and that player," Frauenheim said. "It just motivated us throughout the whole year to prove everyone wrong. I have never felt this before, but I’m hoping in the next couple years, I’ll get to feel it again."
Not only did Manasquan beat out the entire Central Jersey Group III field to claim another sectional title: the Warriors completely dominated the competition. With one final lopsided victory, Manasquan outscored its four Central Group III opponents by an average margin of 32.5 and even extracting an 81-16 win over Steinert from the equation, Manasquan won the last three games by an average of 21.7 points with a 66-52, quarterfinal win over Red Bank the closest of the four outcomes.
"It all started with us believing," Solomon said. "I know a lot of people didn’t believe we could do that, but part of that is just blocking everything out and just focusing on ourselves. We know anything is possible if we work together every day."
On Tuesday, Manasquan was exemplary in all facets, but its offense was especially impressive. The Warriors connected on 13 of 20 three-point attempts, shot 60 percent (26-for-43) from the field, and had assists on 17 of the 26 made field goals -- giving Manasquan as many assists as missed shots.
"The kids have been doing the right thing and for whatever reason, it has been building really well," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said. "We’ve been getting better and better defensively and then late in the year, our offense really started to take hold and it really found its own rhythm as we started to understand things better."
Frauenheim's hot shooting led the way and amid his 70-percent shooting performance overall was an even better 5-for-6 showing from beyond the three-point line. Konov was the other driving force behind Manasquan's scorching shooting, with the sophomore hitting on five of his seven attempts from long range to account for all 15 of his points.
"Our execution has been really good, so we feel like in a lot of the games in the last three or four weeks, we have been getting phenomenal shots," Bilodeau said. "Alex and Ryan tonight were just, wow. They both shot the hell out of it."
Adams added 15 points as well and his classmate, Linstra, racked up 11 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
"They are all really multiple threats," Bilodeau said of Frauenheim, Adams and Linstra -- all ball-handers in the offense. "They all do a really good job in all aspects. Having those guys be able to play those positions really makes us a tough team to guard."
"We knew we were going to have a young team regardless of whether we had Ben or not," Solomon said. "I was very surprised with how well they adapted, because honestly, it took me two or three years to pick up on everything. Ryan picked it up pretty easily last year. Darius, Griffin and Alex, they all picked it up like that. They are all very smart players."
With all the action on the perimeter, the 6-foot-7 Solomon took a backseat in scoring with nine points, but dominated the glass with his 16 rebounds.
"It starts in practice," Solomon said. "Our practices have been top notch – the best they have been all season, so we’ve been locked in and it really translated today.
"We have great coaches and they really know how to put all the great attributes we have together. They have been doing a great job with that all season and they formulated a great game plan today and it showed."
Robbinsville came into Tuesday in search of its first ever NJSIAA sectional championship while playing in its first ever sectional final. The Ravens had a memorable moment when senior Brian Herbert hit a three-pointer in the second quarter that vaulted him into the 1,000-point club. Herbert and sophomore Luke Billings each scored 13 points to lead Robbinsville.
Outside of Herbert's milestone, there was little to cheer for for the considerable fanbase that travelled with the Ravens for their first sectional final. Manasquan stormed out to a 19-7 lead and after Robbinsville got the deficit down to 19-12 by the end of the first quarter, Manasquan landed an early knockout with a 15-0 run to start the second quarter, making the score 34-12.
Frauenheim scored 10 straight points during that 15-0 blast, starting it off with two three-pointers before getting a pair of runner floaters to drop. Konov capped the run with the third of his four first-half three-pointers, with his final three finishing off the scoring in a 39-18 first half for Manasquan.
Manasquan's run to a third consecutive sectional championship began after a loss to Marlboro in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game, which Manasquan reached by knocking off two Non-Public finalists in South Jersey -- Ranney and Red Bank Catholic. Marlboro's all-senior lineup proved more than the Warriors were ready to overcome, but the experience further prepared them to make their dominant run to Tuesday's championship-clinching moment.
It also did not hurt that the returning players got to experience a 12-0 team in 2021 and pass along the experience to the newcomers.
"I have been on some great teams, so I got to see what those leaders looked like and I got to learn from them," Solomon said.
"We see what previous teams have done and how they do it and we just want to be like them," Frauenheim said.
Since Bilodeau took over the program in 2008-09, Manasquan has won five sectional championships after it had only two upon his arrival. Considering the loss of Roy in October and the sheer youth of the team, not to mention an in-season health scare last year that took him away from the team to end the 2021 season, this year's job has been up there with Bilodeau's best in his highly successful run at Manasquan.
In the last four seasons alone, Manasquan has been to four Shore Conference finals (official or unofficial) with two wins, won three sectional championships and finished No. 2 in the state in 2021 after coming in at No. 6 to close out 2020.
"I keep saying the same thing: a lot of people probably thought we had some talent and we would be good in the future, but I have been saying that rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated," Bilodeau said, repeating his favorite refrain after many of Manasquan's 25 wins this season. "I am really happy for them, but we have very good players who are great people and come from outstanding families and that’s a great recipe as far as I’m concerned."
One hurdle the Warriors have yet to clear since Bilodeau arrived is making it back to the group championships at Rutgers University. Manasquan lost to Camden in both the 2009 and 2015 Group II semifinals and to Haddonfield in 2019. In 2020, the Warriors were again slated to clash with Camden -- then ranked No. 1 in the state -- but the game was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak that ultimately ended the season before the group championships.
On Thursday, Manasquan will try to end an 18-year wait between trips to the group championships, with the Warriors now navigating Group III after a long stretch in Group II.
This time around, it is another team from Camden -- Woodrow Wilson -- standing between Manasquan and its first trip to the state final since 2004. Eighteen years ago, Manasquan ran into Raritan in the Group II final, with the Rockets claiming the Group II championship at the Warriors' expense.
Manasquan has never won an overall group title and the thought of this team -- with all the questions surrounding it heading into the season -- being the first to do it in school history is an appealing one for the players, to say the least.
"It means a lot to have the opportunity, but I think it means even more to this team because we have been counted out so many times," Solomon said. "Every article or every round we’re about to play is ‘Maybe Manasquan is too young. Their youth is about to show.’ It feels great having a chance to make school history and winning a group final. I think we’re all ready to do that and I know for a fact we all believe we can."
As for Bilodeau, he insists he doesn't harp on the group semifinal losses of the past and is just concerned about getting his team ready to play like it has for the last four games. The opponent will be a formidable one, with Woodrow Wilson playing a competitive schedule, which includes a 12-point loss to No. 1 Camden, on the way to a South Jersey Group III championship.
"There are a lot of teams out there that never get to win anything," Bilodeau said of the group semifinal roadblock for Manasquan. "I don’t look at it as a negative. I see it as we are very blessed to be able to have won five (sectional championships) and three in the last four years.
"I don’t look at it as some mythical hump we have to get over. A lot of people would kill to be as lucky as we have been."