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MIDDLETOWN -- Andrew Bilodeau has coached Manasquan teams in recent years that stack up well against some of the public-school teams throughout the history of the Shore Conference.

So when Bilodeau says this year's team -- with two freshmen and two sophomores in its all-new starting lineup -- might be the smartest team he has ever coached, it's a major statement.

"They are retaining (coaching) so quickly and you're seeing results quickly," Bilodeau said. "They're great in the film room. They're just really smart."

Manasquan's sharp young players learned a great deal from a 5-2 start that featured some humbling moments, some near misses and some hard-fought wins but nothing can replicate the feeling of a big win. Now, the Warriors have one of those too.

Freshman Darius Adams led the scoring effort with a game-high 20 points and the Warriors got contributions across the board Saturday at Brookdale in an impressive 56-47 win over St. Joseph of Metuchen -- the No. 11 team in the state, according to NJ Advance Media -- at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase.

"For a young team, they need to see the fruits of their labor," Bilodeau said. "Their ears are a little more open when they see what they are doing is paying off. But I just think it's a confidence thing."

"It's motivation for us to keep going and doing the stuff that we've been doing everyday in practice," Adams said. "The chemistry is good on the court and we're doing good."

A win of any kind over a state-ranked opponent is an impressive one for a promising, young team but the manner in which the Warriors beat the Falcons Saturday makes the performance all-the-more encouraging. Manasquan led the game wire-to-wire and led by double-digit margins in the second, third and fourth quarters.

"We have gotten better every single game and I think people can see that," Solomon said. "Playing in this game, in this atmosphere in a big showcase in front of a bunch of people against a highly-ranked team in the state, it's good moving forward. Playing against these tough teams just prepares us for every game moving forward."

"When you're playing against one of the best teams in the state and you take the lead at the beginning and hold it the whole game, that's a major confidence boost," Bilodeau said. "I thought the things we have been emphasizing lately have shown up each game. We need to defend better: boom. We need to get out and run more: boom. We need to get on the glass: bang."

The Warriors controlled the game despite not shooting the ball particularly well, posting a 3-for-16 mark from beyond the three-point arc. Sticking with the theme of intelligent play, however, the Warriors attempted just one three-pointer in the fourth quarter while protecting their lead and it was a make by freshman Griffin Linstra.

"There are very few freshmen who can pick up as much as Darius and Griffin and Alex, even though he is a sophomore, have in a short amount of time," Solomon said. "There aren't many kids who can do that and come out in front of that many people against these big teams and actually translate it to the game."

Manasquan overcame suboptimal shooting thanks to a workmanlike effort on the boards, with Solomon, Linstra (seven points), sophomore Alex Konov (nine points), sophomore guard Ryan Frauenheim (one point) and junior Quinn Peters (six points) and senior Dan Hyland (four points) off the bench all making their presence felt on both ends of the floor.

"We have to get the extra possessions," Bilodeau said. "That's big for us. Always has been, always will be."

Solomon has been particularly effective on the glass, averaging double-digit rebounds per game through eight games and emerging as both a senior leader and one of the Shore's better interior players after serving as the first player off Manasquan's bench last year.

"I have had a ton of great guys ahead of me who have helped me get better," Solomon said. "My brother (Andrew Solomon), Alex Galvan, Connor Walsh and even the guards: Ben (Roy), Casey (Mulligan). Ryan Jensen and Galvan have been to so many of our practices and have really helped me make this transition. It's definitely been easier because of them, plus coach Bilodeau, coach (Sean) Fitzgerald), coach (Ryan) Ritchey, coach (Colin) Eldridge) --  they have all been super helpful."

Adams knocked down his first three-point attempt of the game on the way to an 11-point first half. With Adams getting going early, Manasquan took a 23-15 lead into the locker room on the Falcons, who shot 7-for-17 from the field, 0-for-3 from the free-throw line and committed nine turnovers in the first half against Manasquan's defense.

"There is definitely pressure coming out in games like this but, it's all my teammates," Adams said. "These guys do so much out there, I just have to make shots."

St. Joseph closed the gap to 49-44 late in the fourth and had a chance to cut the deficit to one score off a turnover, but a crucial offensive foul call gave Manasquan possession back with under two minutes to go and was also the impetus for a technical foul on the Falcons bench with 1:07 to go.

After Frauenheim hit one of the two technical fouls and Linstra knocked down a pair of conventional free throws, the Warriors had grown their lead back to 54-44.

It is the kind of win that could be the tipping point for a talented Manasquan team that could still make a play for a championship in a competitive Shore Conference Tournament and in a wide-open Group III during the NJSIAA Tournament.

"They're one of the smarter teams we have ever had," Bilodeau said. "The chemistry is unbelievable. The biggest kicker is lack of experience and therefore lack of confidence. If you haven't done it, you don't know if you can do it and they're starting to figure out we've got a chance to be good."

Manasquan is making this transformation with senior Ben Roy supporting his teammates from the bench as he recovers from a torn ACL. Without the two-time Shore Conference Player of the Year and First-Team-All-State guard in 2021, the Warriors have had to find their own way.

"Your woobie is gone -- your comfortable blanket," Bilodeau joked. "He was certainly mine."

"Obviously, it would help to have Ben, but we were ready to step up regardless," Solomon said. "We knew we were going to have to step up even with him and now, it's just stepping up a little bit more. These younger guys have definitely helped us and because their so smart, it's easier to teach them how to become leaders and to do what they have to do. They want to learn, they want to play Manasquan basketball. I don't want to say it's easy, but it's definitely easier with players like that."


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