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ELIZABETH - The circumstances were not ideal and the performance was not perfect, but the result was resounding.

The Manasquan boys basketball team solidified its place among the top 20 teams in N.J. Sunday by storming out to a big lead and holding on for a 74-67 win over defending NJSIAA Group IV champion Newark East Side - the No. 6 team in the NJ.com Preseason State Top 20 - at the Hoop Group Tipoff Showcase at the Dunn Center.

Senior Alex Galvan dominated in the paint, scoring a game-high 32 points to go with 11 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals and winning game MVP honors.

Manasquan senior Alex Galvan. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Manasquan senior Alex Galvan. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We definitely didn't see ourselves as the underdog coming into this game," Galvan said. "We wanted to come up here, get the 'W' and make a statement."

"This was a great test for our team," coach Andrew Bilodeau said. "They are really good - No. 6 in the state or whatever it was. Considering the last few minutes when they started coming after us, I was worried about the fact that we played (Brick Memorial in the WOBM Christmas Classic) last night and it showed a little. Once we got through the four-minute mark, it was like 'Okay, we're good.'"

The end result is a statement win for a Manasquan team trying to get past the Group II semifinal round for the first time and win its first Shore Conference Tournament championship in 63 years. The way the Warriors got there was a little more unsettling.

Playing for a second straight day and third time in four games, Manasquan stormed out to a 12-point lead in the first half and an 18-point lead in the third quarter. The Warriors led 58-43 in the first minute of the fourth quarter when East Side turned up its full-court press and mounted a rally.

The Red Raiders embarked on a 16-3 run, cutting the Manasquan lead to 61-59 on a pair of free throws by Monmouth University commit Mikah Johnson, who finished with  team-high 24 points.

"You knew this team wasn't just going to give up," Galvan said of East Side. "They were going to show some pride and fight back as best they could and we just had to stay calm. Sometimes we got a little away from ourselves, but as long as we play like ourselves, we'll be good."

On the next possession, however, Johnson was whistled for his fifth foul, ending his day at the 4:07 mark of the fourth quarter with 24 points and his team riding serious momentum.

Junior Connor Kelly ended the East Side run with a pair of free throws, but sophomore David Oluniyi drove to the rim to trim the deficit back to two. Galvan then made one of two free throws on two separate occasions, follow by the same from sophomore Ben Roy to push the lead to 66-61. Following a Raiders turnover, Roy missed a runner and Galvan converted the follow as he was fouled to extend Manasquan's lead to 68-61.

"We broke their pressure for layups and missed layups," Bilodeau said of his team, which shot 7-for-its-last-13 from the foul line. "Last night's legs showed up and we missed foul shots. If we make our layups and shoot our free throws better, we win by 15 or 20. So I think it was more about what we didn't do that what they did to us."

East Side made one last push, with senior Gabe Oluniyi and David Oluniyi scoring on a drive to get the deficit back down to three. Manasquan's next two trips included one of two foul shots by senior Kieran Flanagan and one of two from Ben Roy while both Oluniyi brothers fouled out in committing the two fouls.

Sophomore Jahzeer Gaskins gave the Red Raiders one last gasp of hope with a layup to cut Manasquan's lead to 70-67 and East Side nearly came up with a steal on the ensuing Manasquan possession, but Quatrell Wilson was called for a reach-in foul just as Nasir Muhammad-Wheeler stole the ball from Roy.

Newark East Side's bench was issued two technical fouls while arguing the call, which gave Roy six free throws. The sophomore hit four of them with 56 seconds left to put the game on ice.

"This is huge for us because it teaches us a lot of things," Galvan said. "It gets the pace of the game going for us, it teaches us to cut off the ball and not just stare in one direction. They (East Side) are very aggressive. It's tough to find a lot of teams better than them."

Before Manasquan scratched and clawed to pull out Sunday's marquee win, the Warriors looked like a well-oiled machine for the better part of three quarters. A 15-3 run spanning the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second turned a 14-14 tie into a 29-17 Manasquan lead. The Warriors built up a 36-24 advantage after a three by Roy - who finished with 17 points - and took a 36-28 lead into the halftime locker room.

The teams traded baskets early in the third before Manasquan hit East Side with a 12-2 run to reach its largest advantage, 52-34. Junior Casey Mulligan scored all five of his points during the run, Roy hit a corner three-pointer and Galvan converted a three-point play to cap it.

Mulligan was Manasquan's lone casualty to a foul-out in a game that saw Manasquan reach the bonus by late in the third quarter and East get there within the first 1:30 of the fourth.

Senior Kieran Flanagan also delivered a strong performance for the Warriors, tallying 10 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Sunday also marked the first major test for new rotation-members junior Connor Walsh and senior Jack Collins. Walsh delivered eight points, three rebounds, three assists and two blocks while Collins hit a three-pointer and grabbed four rebounds off the bench.

"Our younger guys that are experiencing this for the first time fought through it and did a good job," Bilodeau said. "I thought we maintained and just to play a team like that is really good for us moving forward.

"I was pretty nervous, myself and I have been here a while," Galvan said. "I can imagine how nervous they (Collins and Walsh) were. They did good, they stayed calm and they got the job done."

Manasquan has won three Central Jersey Group II championships in Bilodeau's first 11 seasons but has not been able to get past the Group II semifinal round - twice losing to Camden (2009 and 2016) and dropping a showdown with Haddonfield last year. Meanwhile, the Warriors reached the Shore Conference Tournament final last year for the first time since 2005 before losing to eventual Tournament of Champions winner Ranney.

For Manasquan to reach the Group II championship game this season, the Warriors could very well have to get by a loaded Camden team that includes Kentucky commit Lance Ware, freshman D.J. Wagner (the son of all-time N.J. leading scorer and NBA lottery pick Dajuan Wagner) and is coached by former NBA guard Rick Brunson.

There is a lot of basketball to be played between Sunday and the SCT final and even more between Sunday and the Group II semifinal, but Sunday's result shows that the Warriors have it in them to beat a public-school powerhouse program in a tough setting.

"The media and everyone else is saying we are going to have a big year but we try not to pay attention to that too much," Galvan said. "We always try to take the season game-by-game and win as many as we can."