Boys Basketball – Manasquan, South River Square Off for CJ 2 Championship
NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II Championship
Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023
No. 2 Manasquan at No. 1 South River, 7 p.m.
Head Coach: Andrew Bilodeau
Last Sectional Championship: 2022
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 15 Monmouth, 65-27; No. 7 Roselle, 76-41; No. 3 Raritan, 48-30
Darius Adams, So., 6-3 (20.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists)
Ryan Frauenheim, Jr., 5-9 (10.9 points, 5.2 assists)
Griffin Linstra, So., 6-4 (7.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists)
Alex Konov, Jr., 6-7 (6.9 points, 50 3-pointers)
Jack Dettlinger, Sr., 6-4 (6.8 points, 5.4 rebounds)
Quinn Peters, Sr., 6-6 (6.0 points, 4.1 rebounds)
South River (26-3)
Head Coach: Brandon Walsh
Last Sectional Championship: 1991
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 16 East Brunswick Magnet, 80-34; No. 9 Point Pleasant Boro, 83-56; No. 4 Bound Brook, 72-66
Roman Santos, Sr., 6-5 (16.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists)
Laz Rodriguez, Sr., 6-5 (14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 blocks)
Alex Grospe, So., 5-10 (12.4 points, 9.5 assists, 2.4 steals)
Jeremy Grospe, Sr., 5-11 (10.8 points, 3.8 assists, 82 3-pointers)
For a team in South River’s position – a senior-led team that entered the year hoping to make the most of its best team in three decades – the first step to beating Manasquan in the postseason is to handle business during the regular season. The Rams did exactly that, losing just three times all season long, nailing down big wins over larger, big-name schools and ultimately beating out the Warriors for the No. 1 seed in the section.
By outpacing Manasquan in power points before the NJSIAA Tournament cutoff date, South River earned the right to host Tuesday night’s championship game, which is no minor detail. Not only will the Rams’ gym be rocking, but it pulls Manasquan away from a home court on which the Warriors have gone 60-1 since 2019 with some wins over some of the state’s best programs among the 60 wins. As for the lone loss? It came this season to Roselle Catholic, the No. 1 team in the state.
Getting Manasquan outside its gym is definitely preferable to having to deal with the Warriors in Manasquan, but they have not won sectional titles in each of the past four seasons while going 122-15 over the past five just by cleaning up at home. Manasquan has looked sharp this season in games at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River, Ramapo College and Monmouth University and a primary reason is its defense has traveled to every stop.
That air-tight, connected Manasquan defense will be imperative against a South River team that has been a well-oiled offensive machine all season. The Rams have four starters averaging double-figures – two of whom measure 6-foot-5 and all of whom can step out and hit the three-point shot. They have scored 70 points or greater in 20 of 29 games and have scored 60 or more in 25 of them. South River announced itself to the state with a December win over South Jersey Non-Public A finalist St. Joseph of Metuchen and went on to beat Bound Brook twice, as well as three Group IV teams with records well above .500 in Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Franklin, North Brunswick.
In the rare instance in which South River does have trouble scoring, that is when the Rams have been vulnerable. They are 1-3 when scoring below 60 points and failed to score 50 in losses to Piscataway and South Brunswick. Manasquan will be the rare team that has the defense to slow South River down and it will be up to the Rams to find a way to overcome that defense and get to the magic number of 60.
Even if the Grospe brothers and the two 6-5 forwards – Roman Santos and Laz Rodriguez – all click enough to find cracks in the Manasquan defense, there is still the issue of slowing the Warriors offense down. Manasquan’s attack has not been as balanced lately, but that is because Darius Adams has been on a tear. While the sophomore is averaging 20.5 points for the season, he is putting up 25.2 per game over Manasquan’s last 11, including an even 24 per game between the Shore Conference and state tournaments.
In Manasquan’s sectional semifinal win over Raritan, the Warriors showed they can function when teams take Adams away. During the first half, Adams scored only three points, but the Warriors still entered the locker room with a 15-point lead thanks to the aforementioned defense, plus hot-shooting halves from Ryan Frauenheim and Alex Konov. Frauenheim has sparkled in the big moments this season, while Konov has given Manasquan a dangerous weapon off the bench as a 6-7 shooter who can also play to his height on both ends of the floor.
Griffin Linstra and Jack Dettlinger are the heartbeat of the Manasquan defense and Quinn Peters is Manasquan’s most physically imposing player, with senior Mike Flanagan also coming off the bench to give the Warriors defense and rebounding in recent weeks.
This is the first road game Manasquan is playing in the Central Jersey Group II section since 2017, when the Warriors’ season ended at Rumson-Fair Haven. Factor in South River’s weapons and this should be Manasquan’s greatest test within the Central Jersey section over the last four tournaments, although that isn’t saying much. In that time, the closest an opponent has come to beating Manasquan was Bordentown in the 2020 CJ II semifinal, which Manasquan won, 80-67. With the home crowd behind them, the Rams will be dangerous, but Manasquan is battle-tested and has the defense that makes the difference. The Pick: Manasquan, 63-55