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MIDDLETOWN - Nothing that happened in Saturday's showdown between the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and the No. 2 team in the state according to surprised Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau, save for one thing: that his team didn't win.

The Warriors played N.J. powerhouse Roselle Catholic at the Boardwalk Showcase at Brookdale Community College without leading scorer and rebounder Alex Galvan due to a sprained ankle and trailed for a grand total of fewer than three minutes on the game clock. When the final buzzer sounded, however, Roselle Catholic escaped with a 45-43 win over previously-unbeaten Manasquan thanks to a game-winning layup by senior C.J. Wilcher with one second left.

"There are no moral victories," Bilodeau said. "That's a tremendous team. I'm not a big rankings guys, I don't pay much attention to the AAU circuit, I don't know where guys are going (to college), but I know they (Roselle Catholic) have very good players. But so do we. We have some guys on our team who aren't there notoriety-wise yet, but we've got a bunch of scholarship players on this team and I hope people take notice of that."

Manasquan senior Kieran Flanagan drives against Roselle Catholic senior C.J. Wilcher. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Manasquan senior Kieran Flanagan drives against Roselle Catholic senior C.J. Wilcher. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Roselle Catholic led 2-0 and did not lead again until the final seconds of Saturday's nail-biter. Manasquan never led by more than six points - five in the second half - but also responded on six occasions in which Roselle Catholic tied the game.

One such instance was a tie-breaking three-pointer by 6-foot-8 senior Tim McEneny to give Manasquan a 41-38 lead with two minutes to play, which set off the closing sequence of the regular-season classic.

The Lions' 6-11 senior center, Cliff Omoruyi, threw down a two-handed dunk to cut the Warriors lead to 41-40 before sophomore Ben Roy answered for Manasquan with a floater in the lane with under 1:30 to go.

Junior Josh Rivera hit arguably Roselle Catholic's biggest shot of the game when he stuck a three-pointer out of the corner with just under a minute to go, tying the game at 43-43.

On the other end of the floor, Omoruyi blocked his eighth shot of the game to give the Lions the ball back with a chance to take the lead, but Manasquan forced the 12th Roselle Catholic turnover of the game to get the ball back with 36 seconds left.

The Warriors burned most of the remaining time off the clock but not enough, as it turned out. Roy got back into the lane for his go-to floater but the contested shot came up well short. Wilcher leaked out and took a long outlet pass up the floor and finished as time ticked away.

"We had been able to get to the rim at will," Bilodeau said. "Ben was in the lane all game. We had a couple basket-cutters set up, a couple spot-up guys set up and Ben had a clear path, got deep in the lane and missed a really good shot. They got a long outlet and it is what it is."

Bilodeau called timeout as soon as Wilcher scored, giving Manasquan 1.1 seconds left for one last desperation attempt. Senior Kieran Flanagan heaved the ball up court and it found Roy, who took an off-balanced three that sailed wide as time expired.

McEneny led Manasquan with 13 points and eight rebounds while leading the defensive effort against Omoruyi, who scored only six points to go with his eight blocks. Roselle Catholic was also not a factor on the glass with only four offensive rebounds, despite Manasquan playing without its top rebounder in Galvan (11.5 per game).

"It changes the way you set up your defense and the way you might want to play on offense," Bilodeau said of Galvan's absence. "But it doesn't change the expectation (to win). If it did, we might as well pack it up and go home for three weeks."

The Warriors also got a lift from juniors Connor Walsh, Jack Collins and Casey Mulligan, whose 13 combined points don't tell the full story of their impact.

"I honestly think that Jack Collins, Connor Walsh and Tim McEneny have been the key to our season," Bilodeau said. "I think those three guys are the key - not necessarily in ways that are easy for the untrained eye to see. I think those guys have been the key to everything since day one."

Walsh was active on the glass with seven rebounds, blocked two shots and threw down a dunk off a behind-the-back feed from senior Kieran Flanagan.

Mulligan saved the ball to set up the Walsh dunk, doubled down on Omoruyi throughout the game and hit three tie-breaking free throws to make it 37-34 when he was fouled on a three-point shot.

Collins came off the bench to hit two three pointers and scored six points.

Roy backed up McEneny with 12 points and Flanagan added five points, four assists and two steals.

Wilcher - a Xavier commit - and sophomore C.J. Floyd each scored 10 points while freshman Simeon Wilcher led the Lions with 11 points.

Manasquan's defense shut down Roselle Catholic through three quarters, limiting the Lions to four points in the first quarter, 15 points in the first half and 25 through three.

"I think you've got to hang your hat on something and for us, it's the defensive team play," Bilodeau said. "It always will be and it's never going to change."

While Manasquan's perfect start is over at the hands of the 2018 Tournament of Champions winner, the Warriors put forth a strong audition as a potential T of C contender this season. Manasquan has been to the Group II semifinals three times under Bilodeau but is still looking for its first trip to the Tournament of Champions.

Come March, Saturday's loss could prove to be an invaluable experience but for the time being, it is the one that got away from Manasquan.

"We didn't come up here to put on a show or put up a good fight," Bilodeau said. "We came here to win just like we would any other game."


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