MANASQUAN -- Rumson-Fair Haven's game plan in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II boys basketball championship game at Manasquan Friday night involved daring several of Manasquan's players to hit perimeter shots and for most of the night, Warriors senior Jason Larned was playing into the Bulldogs strategy.

Then, with the game and the championship on the line, Rumson left Larned open one too many times and the senior hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

Larned's three-pointer with 43 seconds left gave top-seeded Manasquan its first lead of the game and highlighted a furious finish that punctuated a 36-30 win over third-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven to clinch a fifth straight NJSIAA sectional championship for the Warriors.

"That's just our culture and not losing faith," Larned said. "We have a winning program, historically, and just coach (Andrew Bilodeau) giving the wisdom to us. All the coaches -- coach (Ed) Breheny, coach (Bob) Wright, Draino (Colin Eldridge); everyone helps us win and it's mostly that that helps us win a game like this."

Manasquan senior Jason Larned (3) reacts to hitting the go-ahead three-pointer in the last minute of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game vs. Rumson-Fair Haven. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Manasquan senior Jason Larned (3) reacts to hitting the go-ahead three-pointer in the last minute of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game vs. Rumson-Fair Haven. (Photo: Tom Smith |

Rumson opened the game with eight unanswered points, then broke an 8-8 tie with another 8-0 run and held onto the lead all the way until the final minute. With the clock approaching the two-minute mark, the Bulldogs led, 30-23, and with points at a premium all night, a seven-point deficit felt more like 14.

Larned scored after collecting the ball out of a scrum near midcourt to trim the deficit to 30-25 with exactly two minutes left. After a Manasquan timeout, both teams traded two missed free throws and Rumson followed that up by missing two more. Rumson finished the game 7-for-17 from the foul line, including 4-for-11 in the fourth quarter.

"We started getting stops," Larned said. "That got the fans into, our bench got into it, they missed some free throws. Right when all that started clicking, we knew the offense would come. At Manasquan, everyone knows defense comes first."

Senior Griffin Linstra hit a shot off the glass to pull Manasquan within 30-27. Freshman Rey Weinseimer then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and flipped the ball to Linstra for another layup that cut Rumson's lead to 30-29.

"I think we were always trying to get pressure to them," Linstra said. "We knew the guys we wanted to foul. We just stuck to our game plan well and we got turnovers and we made big plays."

Manasquan forced another Rumson turnover on a jump-ball near midcourt to get the ball back with under a minute to go and on the next possession, Linstra drove into the paint and spotted his senior teammate wide-open in the right corner. Linstra fired a pass to Larned, who did not hesitate in unleashing a corner three-pointer that put the Warriors ahead, 32-30, with 43 seconds left.

"It's really all about the guys around me," Larned said. "I feel no pressure and it's because of them. I misses shots and I come off the floor and guys are telling me to shoot. I air-balled three threes and I still come back out because all of them are telling me to shoot it. That's what I did and it was just right place, right time."

Rumson immediately turned the ball over for a third straight time on the inbounds pass the the momentum was fully on the side of the home team and its frenzied fans.

Prior to his go-ahead three, Larned was 1-for-7 from three-point range and had missed six in a row.

"The rest of the team got stops, they got rebounds, they helped me out throughout that entire way," Larned said. "I'm just thankful they had confidence in me.

"Early, I just wasn't hitting my shots, and that happens. That's going to happen at different points during a game, and I know that, but I didn't lose confidence and I'm proud of myself for that."

"I have a lot of trust in Jason Larned," Linstra said. "I think he is one of the most underrated players in the Shore. I see the work he puts in and I feel like it really showed this year. He came front being a jayvee guy last year to being one of the best players on our team."

Manasquan junior Griffin Linstra gets off a shot inside. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Manasquan junior Griffin Linstra gets off a shot inside. (Photo: Tom Smith |

Linstra then stepped to the line after the two teams had combined to miss six straight free throws and calmly hit both with 18.8 seconds left to make it 34-30.

Rumson senior Leo Passalaqua, who hit a key three to put the Bulldogs ahead, 29-23, watched a 27-footer spin all the way around the rim and out. Sophomore Jack O'Reilly secured the defensive rebound and flipped the ball to Linstra, whom Rumson fouled again.

Once again, Linstra hit both free throws with eight seconds left and after one more miss by the Bulldogs on the other end, Manasquan dribbled out the clock and braced themselves for a court-storm by the Warriors student section.

"No fear at all," Larned said of Linstra. "It's just like we're in the gym shooting around. There is nothing extra. He is one of the best players in the Shore Conference and in the state and, no doubt, I knew he was going to hit those, 100 percent. No fear. He is cold."

"It's all confidence," Linstra said. "When you are staring into a student section of all your boys -- I'm looking at my best friends sitting there -- I just knew they were going in and it was time to win."

When all was said and done, Manasquan scored the final 13 points of the game during a stretch of exactly two minutes to win its fifth consecutive sectional championship -- a run that started in 2019 and includes four Central Group II championships and a 2022 Central Group III championship. There was no state tournament during the COVID-shortened 2021 season, which Manasquan finished 12-0.

Linstra finished with 12 points and eight rebounds to lead Manasquan, while Larned added 10 points. The two top scorers combined for 15 points in the fourth quarter, with Linstra scoring eight and Larned posting seven.

Larned also hit a three-pointer to halt Rumson's 8-0 run to start the game and Weinseimer scored all six of his points in the first half, capped by a three-pointer that ended Rumson's second 8-0 run and sent the Warriors into the halftime locker room trailing 16-11.

Rumson was committed to preventing open looks for Weinseimer and 6-foot-7 Manasquan senior Alex Konov, who hit his first and only three-pointer to cut Manasquan's deficit to 23-21 with under five minutes to go in the fourth.

Bulldogs junior Riley Gill, who was glued to Linstra for most of the game, picked up his fifth foul on an illegal screen on the ensuing possession and Manasquan appeared poised to take over at that point. Konov, however, was called for a technical foul for bumping into Gill and knocking him over as he was walking off the floor. Junior David Carr hit both free throws to quiet the Manasquan crowd and put Rumson up, 25-21.

Linstra scored just four points in the 28 minutes prior to Gill fouling out and eight in the final two with the Bulldogs junior defensive specialist relegated to the bench.

Senior Andrew Goodes scored eight of his nine points in the first half on 4-for-4 shooting before the break, but the Warriors held him to 1 point on 0-for-2 from the field and 1-for-4 from the line after halftime. Rumson's 6-6 center also grabbed six rebounds.

Carr scored all seven of his points in the second half and 6-8 sophomore Luke Cruz finished with five points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots in the loss.

Manasquan moves on to face South Jersey champion Camden Tuesday in the Group II semifinal at Central Regional High School. The Panthers are led by Kentucky commit Billy Richmond and just won their 50th sectional championship in program history.

The Warriors will have the a long weekend to prepare for Camden and continue their defense of their 2023 Group II championship, but will also take time to bask in the glory of a seventh sectional championship during Bilodeau's 16-year tenure as head coach, with five coming in the last six years.

Photo: Tom Smith |
Photo: Tom Smith |

Since 2013 every Central Jersey Group II championship game has had either Rumson or Manasquan in it and Friday marked the first time the two played one another in the final. The two programs have combined to win seven straight Central Group II championships and eight out of the last nine.

Manasquan owns a 5-3 edge over Rumson in that nine-year stretch and also won a Central Group III title in 2022 to make it six sectional championships since 2015.

"We just have a team full of winners," Linstra said. "We come from families that are winners, our town is a bunch of winners and it's just our culture."

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