Boys Basketball – Shore Conference (NJ) Championship Preview: Marlboro vs. Manasquan
Shore Conference Pod A Championship Game
No. 3 Marlboro (9-3) at No. 1 Manasquan (11-0)
Friday, March 5, 2021, 5:30 p.m. at Manasquan High School
Marlboro Starting Five
Jon Spatola, Jr., 5-8, Guard
Zach Molod, Jr., 5-11, Guard
Nick Malucelli, Sr., 6-4, Center
Jay Ratner, Jr., 6-3, Forward
Jack Seidler, Jr., 6-5, Forward
Mustangs Off the Bench
Vinny Spatola, Jr., 5-11, Guard
Ryan Mendez, So., 6-0, Guard
Marlboro’s lineup revolves out the many abilities of juniors Jon Spatola and Jack Seidler, both of whom are among the top 10 scorers in the Shore Conference heading into Friday. Seidler is one of the most well-rounded talents in the conference at 6-5, while Spatola has made a strong case as the best player in the playoffs after his dominant performance at Ranney Wednesday night (27 points while holding Ranney’s Isaac Hester to 17 points).
The Mustangs have gotten plenty from the supporting cast, even if it doesn’t always come in the form of scoring. Junior Jay Ratner does some of everything, guarding multiple positions, crashing the glass and spotting up for three, among other things. Zach Molod is another ball-handler who takes pressure off Spatola on both ends of the floor and Malucelli adds size, athleticism and a sneaky-good shot. Off the bench, Vinny Spatola is an energy source who gets after it defensively and can also knock down the three.
Manasquan Starting Five
Ben Roy, Jr., 6-2, Guard
Casey Mulligan, Sr., 5-10, Guard
Andrew Solomon, Sr., 6-6, Forward/Center
Connor Walsh, Sr., 6-5, Forward
Jack Collins, Sr., 6-5, Forward
Warriors Off the Bench
Matt Solomon, Jr., 6-5, Forward
Ryan Frauenheim, Fr., 5-9, Guard
Shayne Leddy, Sr., 6-1, Forward
On the surface, Ben Roy has had an exceedingly impressive season: 24.3 points and 3.5 assists per game for an 11-0 team that is currently ranked No. 3 in the state. What might not be obvious from those straight-forward facts is how good of a closer he has been. Manasquan has trailed in nine of the 11 games they have played and have trailed by seven points or more in the second half in three of the past four games. In each game, Roy and his team delivered down the stretch, including this week in wins over Neptune and CBA.
Jack Collins has been a big part of those second-half-surges as well, especially in Wednesday’s win over CBA, when he scored all 12 of his points after halftime. Connor Walsh has also had a number of games as Manasquan’s second scorer and he is the team’s best player around the rim. Senior Andrew Solomon has also been a reliable finisher in the paint, as well as a constant on defense and the backboards.
Casey Mulligan is the other starter and his relentlessness on defense, unselfishness on offense and willingness to take a big shot when needed were all on display vs. CBA on Wednesday. He has had games in his career in which he has drawn five offensive fouls and that will be something Spatola and Seidler will need to be wary of.
Manasquan does not lean too much on its bench, but junior Matt Solomon and freshman Ryan Frauenheim can give the starters a quick breather or a chance to spell foul trouble.
Tale of the Tape
Manasquan’s last two opponents tried to slow the game down on the Warriors and it kept both close heading into the final minutes. It’s safe to say Marlboro will not be employing the same strategy. Mustangs coach Mike Nausedas said after his team’s upset of Ranney Wednesday that their focus in preparing for the semifinal game was almost exclusively on how his own team played rather than what Ranney was going to do.
While this game will likely require more study of the opponent (Marlboro had played Ranney once before but has not played Manasquan this season) Marlboro will again try to dictate the game. The Mustangs like to force the issue on both ends, employing multiple looks on defense and playing up-tempo on the offensive end.
Manasquan, meanwhile, is likely to welcome the challenge. With Roy running the show and an athletic front court that runs the floor and finishes, Manasquan thrives in fast-paced settings as well. The Warriors are not quite a lights-out shooting team, but they have four players who can hit the three, five who are solid free-throw shooters, and two in Roy and Collins who can get red-hot.
With that being said, Marlboro hasn’t been prone to the minor shooting droughts Manasquan has dealt with in several of its games. The Mustangs are an even better free-throw shooting team as well, with Seidler and Spatola both shooting 80-plus percent.
The other advantage Marlboro seems to have at the moment is legs. Both teams have played a lot of games in a short period of time, but Manasquan’s schedule has been even more relentless and the Warriors have looked like a team fighting through some fatigue over the last two games. Marlboro, meanwhile, has looked rejuvenated since beating CBA, 59-52, on Feb. 20.
Key Matchup: Jack Seidler vs. Jack Collins
The headline showdown will be between Roy and Spatola. Manasquan will not allow Spatola to take the ball out of Roy’s hands like he did to Hester and Ranney on Wednesday, while Manasquan will likely throw Mulligan at Spatola on defense but Roy will get some shots at him too.
Both guards should have good games so the more telling matchup will be Seidler vs. Collins. Both players have similar skillsets but Seidler is more comfortable getting his shot off in the midrange and around the basket, which is why he is putting up better than 20 points per game. Either player could win this matchup, but it is essential for Seidler to win it for Marlboro to win the game. If Collins goes off and either matches or tops Seidler, it’s hard to see a lane for the Mustangs to pull the upset. Manasquan is too tough on the interior and Roy is too dynamic to overcome losing the Seidler-Collins matchup.
From the beginning of the season, Marlboro was the team lurking as the sleeper to win whatever postseason the Shore Conference played this season. Manasquan and Ranney were the favorites, but the Mustangs had the talent, athleticism, experience, and the potential to grow as juniors that gave them a chance to beat either team head-to-head. While Neptune and CBA gave Manasquan serious scares, Marlboro is a more explosive offensive team than both of those opponents, which could put serious pressure on Manasquan to match them shot-for-shot.
Unlike its past two games, Manasquan might actually prefer the slower pace. The Warriors are capable of matching shots with Marlboro but falling into that trap will give the Mustangs the best chance to win the game. Playing in their cozy home gym and with a senior-heavy team that has embraced playing defense throughout the year, the Warriors find a way to get a few more stops.
The Pick: Manasquan, 67-61