Boys Basketball – Wall and Manasquan Play for Sectional Titles in CJ 3 and CJ 2
NJSIAA Sectional Finals
Tuesday, March 5
Central Jersey Group III
No. 6 Burlington Township (22-7) at No. 1 Wall (20-8)
One of the teams in the Central Jersey Group III championship game was not supposed to make it this far this season and, strangely enough, that team is the one with the No. 1 before its name.
Now that Wall has established itself as a 20-win team and one of the Shore’s tougher outs, it is no big surprise that the Crimson Knights are one of the four Shore Conference boys teams still standing as of Tuesday. At the beginning of the year, however, the Crimson Knights were on the radar of few, if any, in the area, and slowly-but-surely proved themselves over the course of the season.
Wall graduated the Shore Conference’s leader in total scoring from a year ago in Steve Geis, who scored 778 points (28.1 per game) during a torrid senior campaign in 2017-18. It did not, however, get Wall more than one game in the state tournament – the Crimson Knights failed to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament and lost their first-round game in Central Group III to Hopewell Valley despite 49 points from Geis.
With Geis gone, junior Quinn Calabrese has emerged as Wall’s primary scorer, but the offensive attack looks very different from last year’s. Calabrese is putting up 18.1 points per game to lead his team but has had plenty of support when it comes to scoring the ball. Sophomore Pat Lacey is averaging 10.6 points per game and senior Trey Dombroski is putting up 8.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Fellow starters sophomore Tom Palluzzi and freshman Colin Ackerman are each averaging better than seven points per game as well, giving Wall a balanced, mostly-underclass supporting cast around its junior standout.
Junior Mike Caputo and sophomore Logan Peters are Wall’s two main depth pieces, giving the Crimson Knights a seven-man rotation that includes only one senior. Despite that youth, Wall has been able to put away some hard-fought wins over the course of the season, most recently in the sectional semifinals against a Ewing team with plenty of championship history in the program.
Speaking of championship history, it has been a long time since Wall boys basketball made an impact in the NJSIAA Tournament like this year’s team has. The Crimson Knights last won a sectional championship in 1973.
On top of replacing a 28-point-per-game scorer with a young core, the Crimson Knights have done so with a new head coach. Bob Klatt assisted former coach Matt Kukoda for three seasons before taking over this year when Kukoda stepped down to go into administration. Klatt is the former coach at Mater Dei and this season has represented a redemption tour of sorts for him after he was dismissed by his alma mater after the 2014-15 season in favor of Ben Gamble, now in his first year as head coach at Marist High School in Bayonne.
All Klatt has done this season is turn a .500 team into a 20-win club on the cusp of its first sectional championship in 46 years. This opportunity comes after Wall already won the Shore Conference Class B North championship this season for the first time since Kukoda’s first season in 2014-15.
Wall won its division championship by beating out Neptune, which is the team Burlington Township eliminated to reach Tuesday’s championship game. The Falcons have already made two successful trips to the Shore Conference this season, first routing Matawan in the sectional quarterfinals before grinding out a 44-36 win over the second-seeded Scarlet Fliers on Saturday.
Burlington Township actually enters Tuesday’s game with the better overall record among the two finalists despite its inferior seed. The Falcons have won 11 of their last 12 heading into the game and have played some quality competition over the course of the season – St. Augustin, Willingboro, Burlington City and Moorestown among them.
The Falcons are led by a trio of juniors in 6-6 Wesley Robinson, 6-5 Emmanuel Ayetigbo and 6-2 John Paul Oluwadare. Robinson and Oluwadare keyed Saturday’s win over Neptune, with Oluwadare scoring 14 points and Robinson putting up 13, including six consecutive made free throws to close out the game.
Burlington Township clamped down defensively in wins over Neptune and Matawan, holding both teams under 40 points. Tuesday will pose a different challenge for the Falcons as Wall has been a more up-tempo offensive team than its two B North rivals and has multiple weapons and looks to throw at the Falcons.
Getting past Ewing was a big step for Wall, especially with the Blue Devils trying to rally in the second half after a great start by Wall. With the sectional final in their own gym and another team reliant on juniors coming in to play them, the Crimson Knights have a lot of intangibles on their side. That should be worth something as Wall pursues its biggest win in nearly half-a-century.
The Pick: Wall 52, Burlington Twp. 49
Central Jersey Group II
No. 3 Lincoln (20-8) at No. 1 Manasquan (28-3)
If the last seven weeks are any indication, Manasquan is a runaway freight train that any other team in Group II would be fortunate to survive. The Warriors have been utterly dominant since losing on the road to Red Bank Catholic on Jan. 12, going 19-1 since with a competitive loss to Ranney serving as the only defeat.
With championships on the table, senior Brad McCabe has risen to the occasion for the Warriors, averaging 18.9 points in his team’s seven postseason games between the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group II Tournaments. His biggest performance was in Manasquan’s lone loss, a career-high 33 points on 9-for-10 shooting from beyond the three-point line in the Shore Conference Tournament final against the No. 1 team in the state.
Junior Alex Galvan has been Manasquan’s steadiest force over the course of the season, entering Tuesday averaging a team-high 18.2 points and 10.4 rebounds for the season. The 6-6 junior is part of an imposing front line that also includes 6-5 senior Xander Korolik and 6-7 junior Tim McEneny, although the three rarely share the floor.
Manasquan’s progression from quality team to dominant force has coincided with the emergence of its backcourt tandem of junior Kieran Flanagan and freshman Ben Roy. Flanagan is averaging 8.7 points and 3.1 assists per game, including 11.4 points and 4.3 points over Manasquan’s last 10 games.
Roy, meanwhile, is showing why he is one of the most highly-regarded freshmen in the state during Manasquan’s recent run. The 6-1 point guard is averaging 8.9 points during the season and since the start of the SCT, Roy is averaging 12.6 points and three assists.
Sophomore Casey Mulligan is Manasquan’s other back court member and usually combines with Roy to defend Manasquan’s toughest perimeter opponents.
On Tuesday, Manasquan’s nemesis will be senior Donte Darby, an athletic, physical guard who can mix it up on the interior as well for a Lincoln team that does not have overwhelming size in the front court. Darby has done it all for the Lions over the last two seasons and is averaging 17.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and three steals during his senior campaign.
Darby was part of a balanced all-around effort that helped Lincoln knock off Manasquan in last year’s sectional quarterfinal round in overtime, 49-46. Lincoln was the No. 10 seed and Manasquan No. 2 in last year’s tournament, but it was not upset considering Lincoln’s grueling schedule, size and senior presence.
The Lions do not have the same size or experience from last year, despite a 20-8 record heading into the game. Lincoln held off a late push by Rumson-Fair Haven on Friday night to pick up an impressive road win over the defending sectional champions, but it is facing a completely different challenge on Tuesday night.
Manasquan has been a machine over the last 20 games and while Lincoln might be able to slow that machine down, it won’t be able to stop it.
The Pick: Manasquan 62, Lincoln 46