NJSIAA Group II Semifinal

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

At Central Regional High School

Tipoff: 7 p.m.

Manasquan (23-6) vs. Camden (28-2)

Camden and Manasquan have been the most decorated teams in Group II since the 2019-20 season and yet, this is the first time the two programs will meet one another in the Group II semifinal since 2015. Their highly anticipated showdown in the 2020 Group II semifinal – when Camden was 29-1 and Manasquan 31-1 – was canceled just hours before the scheduled tipoff in Toms River due to the onset of the COVID pandemic. In 2021-22, Manasquan was classified as a Group III school and was one of the younger starting fives in the state with two freshmen and two sophomores, while Camden went on to win its first group championship since 2000 with a victory in Group II before losing to Roselle Catholic in the last ever Tournament of Champions final.

Last year figured to finally be the year Camden and Manasquan would again clash in the Group II semifinal, but Camden’s nationally-ranked team was disqualified from the NJSIAA Tournament just days before the opening round due to a benches-clearing brawl with rival Camden Eastside in the Camden County Tournament championship game. The championship was never completed and both teams missed out on participating in the NJSIAA Tournament when both would likely have been favorites to repeat as overall group champions.

With Camden out of the tournament, Manasquan was the team that stepped up and won the Group II championship. It was the first ever group title for the Warriors, who won hard-fought games over South River in the Central Jersey Group II final and Middle Township in the Group II semifinal before blowing out Caldwell in the Group II championship game.

Manasquan senior Alex Konov puts up a shot. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Manasquan senior Alex Konov puts up a shot. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

The last time Camden and Manasquan did play one another, it was before Camden exploded into a national power and before Manasquan became a perennial state-ranked team and dominant force within the Shore Conference. The Warriors won their second Central Group II championship under coach Andrew Bilodeau in 2015 and first since 2009, then ran into Camden in the Group II semifinals at Perth Amboy.

Manasquan was no match for the Panthers, who outscored Manasquan, 29-14, in the first quarter on the way to a 64-49 win. Camden, however, lost in the Group II final to Newark Tech – a theme for the program after winning the Tournament of Champions in 2000. The High went 0-8 in group championship games between 2001 and 2017, including losses in four straight Group II finals from 2014 to 2017.

In 2019-20, Camden was a national power, led by current Villanova forward Lance Ware and then-freshman and current Kentucky guard D.J. Wagner on the court and by coach Rick Brunson on the sideline. The Panthers’ lone loss came against Roman Catholic of Philadelphia, but Manasquan figured to be a worthy challenger after going 31-1 to that point with a two-point loss to Roselle Catholic while 6-foot-7 forward Alex Galvan was hurt the only blemish on the Warriors record.

Tuesday’s showdown is between teams that are not what they have been in recent years, but are still the class of Group II. Camden is picking up steam in its case for finishing No. 1 in the state after dismantling Middle Township, 80-55, in the South Group II championship behind 20 points apiece from Kentucky commit Billy Richmond and junior Emmanuel Joe-Samuel. The Panthers have not played the elite schedule they were playing during Wagner’s four-years there, but it has still been a national schedule and both of their losses are to out-of-state opponents. Since the 2019-20 season, Camden’s only loss to a team from New Jersey is the 2022 T of C championship loss to Roselle Catholic.

Manasquan junior Griffin Linstra gets off a shot inside. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Manasquan junior Griffin Linstra gets off a shot inside. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Manasquan has just two starters back from last year’s breakthrough Group II championship team even though the Warriors started just one or two seniors last year, depending on the lineup for a given game. Junior Griffin Linstra and 6-foot-7 senior Alex Konov are back this season, but Konov suffered a broken bone in his foot that kept him out for six games and that he has been playing through ever since.

Darius Adams and Ryan Frauenheim were Manasquan’s two Shore Sports Network First Team All-Shore players in 2022-23, but neither has taken the floor for Manasquan this year. Adams transferred to national power La Lumiere in Indiana during the summer, while Frauenheim suffered a torn ACL shortly after Adams publicly announced he was leaving. Frauenheim has provided leadership and emotional support from the bench and has been dressing for games and going through pregame warmups with his team since the Shore Conference Tournament final on Feb. 18.

With Adams and Frauenheim out of the picture for playing time this year, several Warriors have stepped up. Senior Jason Larned is one of the Shore Conference’s most improved players, giving Manasquan an athletic, 6-3 wing who excels on both ends of the floor. Larned’s three-pointer with 43 seconds left on Friday night gave Manasquan its first lead in a 36-30, come-from-behind win over Rumson-Fair Haven in the Central Jersey Group II final.

Senior Luke Roy and freshman Rey Weinseimer are the other two first-year starters, with Roy working his way to the starter role after serving as a reserve last year and starting this season as the sixth man. The injury to Konov in December cleared the way for Roy to start and he has held that spot now that Konov is back, giving the Warriors a capable ball-handler, savvy passer and hard-nosed defender who can also knock down an open three.

Manasquan senior Jason Larned. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Manasquan senior Jason Larned. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Along with Linstra and Larned, Weinseimer has been one of Manasquan’s three best offensive facilitators, even as a freshman. He has been a starter since opening night and his 8.0 points per game are not far off the 9.2 Ben Roy averaged as a freshman in 2018-19.

Manasquan’s two true frontcourt players are sophomore Jack O’Reilly and senior Ryan Mulvaney, the latter of whom opened the year as a starter but also missed a brief stretch of games in February due to an injury. The two 6-4 forwards game Manasquan important minutes in its win over Rumson, which boasted a frontline of 6-8 and 6-6 players in Luke Cruz and Andrew Goodes.

Camden will present a totally different challenge than the one Manasquan had to overcome against Rumson. The Panthers are one of the state’s most athletic lineups, led by Richmond – a 6-5 guard averaging 18.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 blocked shots.

Richmond is one of five players averaging double-figure scoring for Camden. Senior Alijah Curry is averaging 13.6 points in 23 games, while senior Teron Murray (12.7), senior Semaj Bethea (11.6) and Joe-Samuel (11.0) are all averaging comfortably above 10 points per game. Curry is a 6-8 transfer from Memphis East High School and is averaging 8.8 rebounds in 23 games, while Bethea came to Camden from St. Augustine and is averaging 4.2 assists per game.

Camden’s firepower will pose a problem for Manasquan, which has been a standout defensive team but has not put up big offensive numbers this year. The Warriors are capable of holding Camden below the 73.7 points the Panthers have been scoring since everyone on the roster has been eligible, but it will still take an above-average scoring game for Manasquan to have a shot at winning. There will be more scoring opportunities for Manasquan Tuesday at Central than there were against Rumson as the pace figures to be ratcheted up several levels.

The Warriors will have to balance pushing the ball off defensive rebounds and getting sucked into an up-and-down, fast-paced game that favors Camden. Bilodeau’s teams have done a nice job striking that balance over the years and were especially good at it in a road win over East Orange in late January – a win that is likely going to serve as Manasquan’s blueprint for upsetting Camden.

Expect the Warriors to have a plan and to compete, but they are likely to be a scorer short in trying to pull off the shocker.

The Pick: Camden, 59-47

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