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MANASQUAN - After sitting out for two weeks due to COVID-19 protocol, the Manasquan boys basketball team would have welcomed four extra minutes of court time Monday night against Montclair Immaculate - the No. 10 team in the state, according to NJ Advance Media.

Instead, the Warriors - ranked No. 4 in the state and No. 1 at the Shore - got a fortunate whistle and left their gym with a big win in their first game in 17 days.

Junior Ben Roy hit three free throws with 1.6 seconds left to cap a 26-point effort on his part and Manasquan pulled out a 68-65 win over the Lions. Roy scored 19 of his in the second half, scored Manasquan's final eight and also dished out four assists in the win.

"That's a good game for us to welcome us back," Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said. "They're really good, really well-coached, always tough. I thought they were really tough physically. I like that team a lot, actually."

Montclair Immaculate senior Jayden Brown was called for a hold on Roy away from the ball while Manasquan senior Jack Collins attempted to inbound it with 1.6 seconds left and the full length of the court to go for a tie-breaking score. In voicing his displeasure over the call, Montclair Immaculate coach Jimmy Salmon drew a technical foul and gave Roy an additional two free throw attempts and Manasquan the ball back after he shot them.

"We obviously love to get the win because they are a great team," Collins said. "I think we would have loved to get the win in a tough overtime fashion even more, but he win in nice to get."

Roy hit the first two and the fourth, then took the ensuing inbound pass to run out the clock. The junior guard also hit the game-tying floater with 16 seconds left after Montclair Immaculate had rallied take the lead with an 11-3 run, highlighted by a go-ahead three-point play by senior DiAndre South.

"Ben is one of the elite in the state: the top player in the Shore, a top player in the state, a top player around," Collins said. "It's a lot of fun playing with him. He knows when we're hot and when we get the ball going in the basket, he's going to find us and he did that tonight."

The airtight finish concluded a back-and-forth game that saw each team reach a double-figure lead. Manasquan trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half and led by as many as 11 in the second half. A 31-10 run over a stretch of 11 minutes put Manasquan ahead, 53-42.

Montclair Immaculate came back with a 12-2 run to pull within 55-54, with senior Zakai Zeigler capping the burst with seven straight points. Zeigler finished with a team-high 24 points and five steals.

"Those guys have four losses but they're an elite team in the state and we knew that coming in," Collins said. "We just came back on Friday, so it was hard getting those two practices in and knowing how good they were going to be - how shifty, how fast they play. We know how fast we play but they were really quick."

Senior Andrew Solomon scored off a feed from senior Connor Walsh and Roy followed with a corner three-pointer to push the lead back to 60-54. Brown then followed with five straight points before Roy hit three straight foul shots to make it 63-59.

While Roy led the final push for Manasquan, Walsh did most of his damage in the first half, when he scored 13 of his 18 points. Collins also added three assists, a pair of blocks and shot 5-for-12 from beyond the three-point line - including one from just inside midcourt to beat the halftime buzzer.

Walsh and Solomon each added eight points, with Walsh leading the rebounding effort and the overall cause on the interior for Manasquan. The 6-foot-6 senior collected nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.

Senior guard Casey Mulligan chipped in five points and was a big part of the second-half defensive effort to slow down Zeigler. While his seven straight points ignited Montclair Immaculate's comeback, those were Zeigler's only points of the second half following a 17-point first half.

"We changed our help a little bit," Bilodeau said of the defense. "Casey played (Zeigler) and we face-guarded him and kind of changed what we were doing defensively. We did a better job stopping him from getting in the lane. If there is no rotation, then you're not a man down on the boards. I thought Casey did an outstanding job.

"Their dribble rotation causes rotation and then you're mismatched. When you can't stay in front of them, now you've got guys rotating and trying to block out. They're really, really tough off the bounce and they run good stuff."

Manasquan opened the season with two wins over St. Rose and then had shut down due to a positive COVID case on the team. The Warriors returned to practice on Saturday, although Bilodeau did not rejoin the team until Monday as he had to quarantine for two extra days.

"I was just happy to see them, period," Bilodeau said. "Today was my first day out of quarantine so I wasn't at practice this weekend. The assistants ran practice, scouting report, film and all that stuff. Credit to those guys: Ryan Ritchey did a good job getting the team ready to play a really good team."

In Manasquan's first week back, it will follow Monday's win with a home-and-home series with Wall - the No. 9 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - and cap the week with a home game against the Patrick School on Friday.

Manasquan's last week of the season is scheduled to include two games against No. 6 Neptune and two more opponents from the state rankings: No. 16 Trenton Catholic and No. 3 Bergen Catholic.

"We missed some chippies, but that was the rust," Bilodeau said. "We literally haven't played in two weeks and you're just kind of funky, but we did okay with it. We played good defense, stuck with it, got to halftime in a close game and then I thought opening the third quarter was the difference."

 

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