Boys Basketball – St. Rose Knocks Out Manasquan Early, Validates No. 1 Ranking
MANASQUAN -- Manasquan High School was the site of one of St. Rose's four losses during the 2022-23 boys basketball season, so the Purple Roses figured to have that game on their collective mind when they returned to the scene Monday to face Manasquan -- the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16.
Instead, it was St. Rose's most recent game that inspired the Purple Roses on Monday. Two days after facing their first halftime deficit since an opening-night loss to the Patrick School, St. Rose was ready for Manasquan thanks to the perfect tune-up game over the weekend.
St. Rose came out ready and blitzed the Warriors over the first 14 minutes to run away with a 63-44 win over the Warriors, solidifying its status as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference.
"It was a perfect tune-up to play against Manasquan," St. Rose coach Brian Lynch said of Saturday's win over Ramapo. "We didn't plan it this way, but that is exactly what it ended up being for us."
On Saturday at Central Regional, it was a fourth-quarter explosion that helped St. Rose turn a 32-30 deficit with 6:30 left into a 56-38 rout. On Monday, that offensive outburst came much earlier, with St. Rose turning a 6-5 game into a 33-10 game by the final two minutes of the second quarter. The overall 27-5 run consisted of a 21-2 run that also contained a 15-0 run.
"Coach (Lynch) said after the Ramapo game that this was a great tune-up for Manasquan because they going to try to do the same thing: slow it down and just run their stuff," St. Rose senior Gio Panzini said. "It's cuts, flares and all these things, but we just stayed solid on defense and got the stops we needed."
In both Saturday's late run and Monday's early run, Panzini figured prominently into the success. After scoring 12 of his 16 points Saturday in the fourth quarter, Panzini scored 10 of his game-high 17 in the first quarter and 14 in the first half overall on Monday.
Panzini hit a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter and capped his first half with a two-hand dunk that gave St. Rose a 33-10 lead.
"He stays within his game, so his efficiency is always very high," Lynch said of Panzini. "What annoys me a little bit is he is being under-looked at the college level. There are some Division I teams on the fence, but nobody has really stepped up and made an offer. For me, it feels like he is playing with a chip on his shoulder every game, so every game is not just another game for him. It's a chance for him to say, 'You're missing out on something.' Every game is a chance for him to showcase that, so he has been playing with that kind of chip on his shoulder."
While Panzini was St. Rose's top scorer, sophomore Jayden Hodge and senior brother, Matt Hodge, were forces on both ends of the floor. Jayden starred in the first and fourth quarters, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, five steals and two blocks. While Jayden Hodge's steals started fast-break chances, his two blocks both came on chase-downs to prevent layups, including one in the first 20 seconds of the game.
"Jay started that game with a big play," Panzini said. "We had a turnover but Jay came down and punched that off the backboard and that really set the tone from the beginning."
Jayden Hodge picked up two steals apiece in the first and fourth quarters and made his layup stuffing blocks in the bookend quarters as well. He also closed the game with 11 points in the fourth.
"I think we're doing a good job on the defensive end and that's what mostly creates our offense," Jayden Hodge said. "It's a lot of good defensive stops, we run out on offense and that's how we get easy baskets."
Matt Hodge, meanwhile, posted 11 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots in another all-around performance. He scored only four points in the second, but both were important shots that changed the momentum after Manasquan showed signs of life.
After falling behind, 33-10, Manasquan scored the final four points of the first half and the first six of the third quarter to string together a 10-0 run that cut St. Rose's lead to 33-20. Hodge halted the run with a short jumper along the baseline, which ignited a 11-2 Roses run that stretched the lead to 44-22.
Manasquan chipped its deficit down to 45-31 with a 9-1 run and once again, Hodge put a stop to the surge. He faked a hand-off, blew past a defender and slammed in a two-hand dunk as he was fouled. St. Rose got its lead back to 20 at 57-37 and coasted to the final buzzer.
Junior Griffin Linstra led Manasquan with 16 points and freshman Rey Weinseimer added 11 in the loss.
St. Rose's lone shortcoming in the game was its 5-for-22 performance (22.7 percent) from the free-throw line. Poor free-throw shooting cost St. Rose a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game last year and while Monday's performance was no where near enough to threaten the Purple Roses with the loss, it was a dose of cold water.
"It is our cross to bear at the moment," Lynch said. "I don't have a real answer other than practicing. An old coach told me once that there is a level of toughness to stepping up and knocking down free throws when you need to it. The thinking has to be, 'I don't care if I missed the last three; I'm stepping up here and making these two."
With in-state, out-of-area wins over St. Benedict's, Bergen Catholic and Ramapo, plus high-profile Shore Conference wins over No. 2 Manasquan, No. 4 Holmdel and No. 5 Red Bank Catholic, St. Rose is coasting toward an outright Class B Coastal division championship, which would be St. Rose's first outright division title in 15 years, as well as the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament.
"It meant a lot to us to win, but the most important thing was just to play our game," sophomore Jayden Hodge said. "Don't force anything and don't let anything go to our head, and I think we did a good job of that. We just have to go to the next game with the same energy."
St. Rose's last high-profile game in-conference is Friday's home tilt against No. 3 Christian Brothers Academy. The Purple Roses will wrap up their regular season with two games at the Metro Classic -- one against defending NJSIAA Non-Public A champion Union Catholic and the other against the No. 1 team in the country, Montverde Academy (Fla.).
For time being, the Purple Roses will enjoy a win over the reigning Shore Conference Tournament champions -- a team that split the regular-season series with the Purple Roses a season ago.
"They pack the stands at Manasquan," Panzini said. "Everyone is chirping. The students are chirping, the fans, the family, the parents are chirping. We just stay composed, do what we have to do and we know we're going to win."