MANASQUAN - Thirteen days before Saturday's showdown with Shore Conference Class A Central division rival Rumson-Fair Haven in the Central Jersey Group II semifinal, the Manasquan boys basketball team won a triple-overtime thriller over the rival Bulldogs in the Shore Conference Tournament final.

While the game will go down as a Shore Conference Tournament classic, Warriors coach Andrew Bilodeau didn't quite see it that way through his coaching lens.

"I thought we played really poorly in the triple-overtime game," Bilodeau said. "We missed 21 free throws and we left probably forty-something points on the court between missed layups and missed free throws."

If an average Manasquan performance led to an A-plus game two weeks ago, then the Warriors' A-plus performance on Saturday made the rematch a laugher, as the Warriors jumped out to an early lead and never looked back - defeating Rumson, 65-46, to advance to the Central Jersey Group II final Monday at top-seeded Bordentown.

Jack Sheehan takes the ball to the basket against Elijah McAllister of Rumson. (Photo by Rob Samuels)
Jack Sheehan takes the ball to the basket against Elijah McAllister of Rumson. (Photo by Rob Samuels)

"Tonight, I guess we played a little bit better," Bilodeau said. "We didn't look at it as anything other than just if we come out and be us, then we'll be okay. We did a good job."

Senior Ryan Jensen led Manasquan with 16 points and 14 rebounds while senior Jack Sheehan turned in a near-triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Warriors. Jensen scored 12 of his points in the first half, including a one-handed dunk as he was fouled that sent the Manasquan student section into a frenzy.

"We talked about before the game taking the ball hard to the basket," Jensen said. "The last couple of games, we've been a little soft and ended up getting blocked so before the game, we all talked about just taking every play, every drive as hard as we can. I know I can get up high enough if I take it hard to the basket and I guess that happened."

"I think that was a turning point in the game," Sheehan said. "It got the crowd going crazy, it gave us momentum going into halftime and I just think we had all the confidence in the world in that locker room."

After Jensen got the crowd into the game with his dunk, Sheehan capped the half by chasing down a blocked shot on a layup attempt by Rumson sophomore Jack Solano. The senior point guard's defensive play complemented his offensive contribution, which included three first-half three-pointers - two of which were rally-killers as the Bulldogs finally started stringing consecutive scoring possessions together.

"When they hit a shot, we've got to go back and answer," Sheehan said. "Along with that, we have to go back down and get a stop. A twenty-point win, I think we did a good job."

Manasquan took the lead for good early in first quarter and upon taking a 17-6 lead on the three-pointer by senior Shane Flanagan, the Warriors never trailed by fewer than 10 points the rest of the way.

Flanagan also added 11 points for Manasquan and drew the primary responsibility matching up with Rumson senior and leading scorer Brendan Barry. While Barry scored a game-high 20 points, that total fell six points below his season average and he accumulated it on 8-for-27 shooting.

"Devin (Jensen) is running off (Mike) O'Connor to help on Barry and Ryan is sitting in the lane, so we're really just trying to defense him tough and keep him off the three-point line," Flanagan said. "We're just trying to rattle him and shake him up as much as we can."

In addition to making Barry work for his points, Manasquan's defense did not allow any other Rumson player to score more than six points.

"The gameplan is for the other four guys, not him," Bilodeau said. "We're not willing to compromise our defense to the point that we're going to stop him. Those other guys are very good. They can hit some shots, so we had some goals for (defending) the other guys, but not Barry."

Flanagan's offense came mostly from behind the three-point line in the form of three triples. The last of those threes was a double-clutch shot from the top of the key that beat the third-quarter buzzer and sent Manasquan to the fourth quarter with a 53-34 lead.

"I'm not blaming us at all; I'm just saying they played great," Rumson coach Chris Champeau said. "It was just one of those games where Sheehan and Jensen did what they do and the kid Flanagan is hitting double-clutch threes from halfcourt. At stage, you're almost just like, 'Hey, it's their night.'"

Barry began the game by missing his first eight shots, but hit three straight shots late in the second quarter as part of a string of five straight possessions in which Rumson scored. Sheehan, however, answered with two of his three-pointers during that same stretch and Barry and the Bulldogs could never get closer than 10 points.

Brendan Barry faced a swarming Manasquan defense Saturday, (Photo by Rob Samuels)
Brendan Barry faced a swarming Manasquan defense Saturday, (Photo by Rob Samuels)

"We had some guys hit some big shots," Bilodeau said. "You're not stopping him (Barry). That's not our plan. Even at halftime, we talked about our offense. We didn't talk about continuing to defend. We talked about pushing the ball, keep your head up and then they went to the halfcourt trap in the second half and that opened some things up."

In the second half, Manasquan scored the first five points and when Rumson again started to hit shots again, the Warriors answered right back. Manasquan worked around Rumson shot-blocking artist Elijah McAllister in the second half after the 6-foot-7 sophomore swatted six shots in the first half. He still managed two blocks, but the Warriors were able to maneuver around him more after halftime.

A steal and layup by Rumson sophomore Teddy Sourlis cut Manasquan's lead to 43-32 late in the third, but the Warriors answered with seven straight points to spark a 12-3 run that extended the Manasquan lead to 55-34 by the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

When the Bulldogs went to their bench with more than two minutes remaining, Barry left to a standing ovation from both fan bases. He finished his career as Rumson's all-time leading scorer with 1,812 points to go with a Kerwin Award this season, as well Shore Sports Network Player of the Year Award and a Shore Conference Tournament championship as a junior. He is currently considering a number of Division I offers.

"It was like the Kobe (Bryant) Farewell Tour with that standing ovation they gave him," Champeau said. "It's going to be tough (without him). He scored 1,800 points, he's the best to ever play at Rumson.

"He made me a genius. I sort of rolled the ball out and he made it happen. In fact a lot of times, people probably look at us and figure everything we do is with him and that's just how he likes to do it. He doesn't like a lot of screens, he likes to have the ball in his hands and it's worked well for him. He's the greatest I ever coached and I'm going to miss him.

"I've played against him three times and he's still the best player I've played against," Flanagan said.

Jensen and Sheehan have each been starters for the Warriors for three years and Jensen was a prominent player off the bench as a freshman while Sheehan still had not yet transferred from Christian Brothers Academy. As a duo, Jensen and Sheehan have gone 7-1 in their careers against Rumson - the only loss coming on the road during the regular season this year, 53-48.

In addition to winning two postseason tournament games against the Bulldogs this season, the Warriors also beat Rumson twice last year, when the Bulldogs won the Shore Conference Tournament championship.

Manasquan's game at Bordentown will be a rematch of last year's Central Jersey Group II final, which Manasquan won in its own gym by a 16-point margin.

"We knew tonight was probably going to be our last game on this court and we owed it to ourselves and everyone who comes out and supports us at all of these games to play our hearts out and leave everything on the floor and we did that tonight," Ryan Jensen said.