MANASQUAN - Following his team's win over Holmdel on Thursday night, Rumson-Fair Haven coach Chris Champeau considered resting 6-foot-7 senior center Elijah McAllister for Saturday's non-divisional road game against Manasquan.

Although the match-up pit two Shore Sports Network Top 10 teams against one another - Rumson No. 3 and Manasquan No. 7 - both teams had reached their maximum number of games that count toward NJSIAA Tournament seeding and McAllister is only a year removed from a second major knee surgery in a span of 10 months.

McAllister - a Vanderbilt University commit in football - might take a break at some point in the next week to rest his knees, but he wasn't about to sit out a game he called the "biggest rivalry in the Shore Conference."

Junior Jackson McCarthy scored seven of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter while McAllister was his usual dominant self on the defensive end to spark the Bulldogs to a 56-45 win over the Warriors Saturday, which all but secures Rumson a top-four seed in the Shore Conference Tournament and likely the No. 3 spot.

Rumson-Fair Haven junior Jackson McCarthy. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Rumson-Fair Haven junior Jackson McCarthy. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We were excited," McAllister said. "It's the biggest rivalry in the Shore Conference, in my opinion - two very similar schools, we battle every game and it always seems like it's a ten or a five or a one-point game every time we've played since I was a freshman and even since I was in seventh grade."

Saturday's win marked the first time Rumson won at Manasquan since the 2012-13 regular season, a streak of four consecutive home wins for Manasquan over the Bulldogs prior to Saturday's result. By comparison, Rumson has won three consecutive home games against the Warriors.

"This has been a brutal place to play for us over the years," said Champeau, now in his ninth season at the helm. "We've had some wins here, we've had a lot of losses here. It's like Ohio State-vs.-Michigan. You never know. Throw the records out."

"I know we haven't won here in a long time, so it feels good to finally get a win on this floor," McAllister said.

Although the fact that both Manasquan and Rumson had already played 16 games heading into Saturday took some meaning out of the showdown, the game still served as a potential preview of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II final and a reminder why McAllister could well be dead-on in his assessment of the rivalry's place within the Shore Conference.

"To win this game, this is a program win," McAllister said. "Manasquan's a top-five, top-six team in the Shore, they are good every team, so any time you can come in here and beat them by 11 points, you've accomplished something. It's a big-time win for us."

After sharing a Class A Central division for several years, Rumson and Manasquan have been separated by re-alignment, but basketball fate has managed to bring the rivals together anyway. Last year, Rumson defeated Manasquan in a regular-season meeting in Rumson and beat the Warriors again in overtime in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals, also in Rumson.

Saturday's win gave Rumson a three-game winning streak in the rivalry, which comes after Manasquan won three out of four meetings in 2015-16, including a triple-overtime win in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Less than two weeks later, Manasquan beat Rumson again in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals.

Rumson-Fair Haven senior Elijah McAllister defends Manasquan junior Xander Korolik. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Rumson-Fair Haven senior Elijah McAllister defends Manasquan junior Xander Korolik. (Photo by Matt Manley)

The two teams appeared primed for a classic game against through three quarters of play, after which the Bulldogs held a 43-39 lead. That equaled Rumson's largest lead of the game to that point, while Manasquan never led by more than five.

The fourth quarter, however, belonged to the Bulldogs, particularly McCarthy. The 6-5 junior scored Rumson's first seven points of the quarter, part of 20-6 run that stretched back to the middle of the third quarter.

"I was just taking what the defense gave me," McCarthy said. "I always attack the basket and try to create for my teammates. When I was attacking the basket, there wasn't any weakside help, so I took advantage of that."

McCarthy hit a pair of second-half three-pointers, including one to tie the game at 35-35. His other triple extended the Rumson lead to 46-39 early in the fourth.

"I'm not usually a coach that likes to hold the ball but I decided to do that today, not to run the clock, but to get (Manasquan) in a man-to-man (defense)," Champeau said. "Once you come out (in a man), we're going NBA - next best action. Space out, let whoever it is - today it was Jackson McCarthy - take his man."

The Rumson defense also starred in the final 10 minutes, holding Manasquan without a field goal during a span of more than eight minutes from the tail end of the third to the 1:09 mark of the fourth quarter.

McAllister keyed the defensive effort with 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots to go with his four points on the offensive end.

"In the second half, we sort of wore them down a little," Champeau said. "When you wear teams down a little, then they're not getting as many offensive rebounds, which is what they do. They're a great team."

McCarthy's fourth-quarter flurry was one of several offensive spurts from a number of Rumson players. Sophomore Phillip Wheeler came off the bench to score 10 of his 11 points in the first half, supplying Rumson with a strong drive to the rim, a three-pointer on the last play of the first quarter, a three-point play on a putback and a two-handed slam.

Junior Ian O'Connor scored all nine of his points during the third quarter to help Rumson keep pace with Manasquan, which went up 35-30 at one point during the third.

Senior Devin Cooper scored 14 points - seven in each half - and hit 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch.

Neither team could shake the other during the first half, with junior Brad McCabe sparking Manasquan with nine points on three three-pointers during the first quarter. McCabe finished with a team-high 14 points.

"Our whole thing was to stop McCabe and he drained (three) threes right in our grill right off the bat," Champeau said. "We had a hand in his face, but those were Division I College shots."

Senior Emilio Stevenson scored Manasquan's first seven points of the third quarter to give his team a 31-28 lead, which senior Ryan Flanagan extended to 33-28 with a pull-up in the lane. Stevenson finished with 13 points and Flanagan posted nine for the Warriors.

Rumson's win on Saturday was its 13th straight - all but one of which have come with senior sharpshooter Jack Solano sidelined by a broken orbital bone above his left eye. Solano suffered the injury during the second quarter of a Jan. 6 win over Christian Brothers Academy, which was the second win of the streak. Rumson's only loss so far is a 48-43 home defeat at the hands of St. Peter's Prep.

According to Champeau, Solano will be ready to make his return sometime this week, perhaps as soon as Tuesday at Shore Regional.

"In a way, it's sort of been a blessing in disguise because it has created opportunities for other guys," Champeau said of Solano's injury. "I've thought since the beginning of the year that we are eight or nine deep and that's where we are going to be when Jack gets back out there."


More From Shore Sports Network