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PISCATAWAY -- Manasquan junior Alex Konov used the word "demanding" to describe Warriors boys basketball coach Andrew Bilodeau and his fiery disposition has helped make Manasquan into one of the best boys basketball programs in the state.

During this year's NJSIAA Group II Playoffs -- a tournament Manasquan had never before won in the history of the program prior to this season -- his team had a demand of their head coach: if they won Manasquan's first even group championship in boys basketball, they were jumping in the Ocean with them as soon as they got back to Manasquan.

Saturday night at Jersey Mike's Arena on the campus of Rutgers University, Manasquan's players won the school's first boys basketball state championship and handed Bilodeau the figurative swim trunks along with the real-life trophy.

Sophomore Darius Adams turned in a dominant performance with 22 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks and the Warriors hit Caldwell with a tidal wave in the second half on the way to a 62-29 win that sends the boys Group II championship home with Manasquan for the first time ever.

Photo: Ray Rich Photography
Photo: Ray Rich Photography

"There was a lot of pressure off after winning the last game," Adams said. "Winning for the first time in school history is pretty crazy. I'm just excited for my teammates, I'm happy for my coach. To do this with them is pretty special."

Manasquan's offense was passable during the first half, but its defense was overwhelming from the opening tip until the final horn. Eventually, the Warriors got rolling on offense, shooting 25-for-44 (57 percent) for the game, including 16-for-23 (69.5 percent) in the second half to turn the game into a rout.

Adams scored 12 of his points with half of his rebounds in the first half and then missed just one shot -- the last one he took -- in the second half. His tip-in at the buzzer sent Manasquan to halftime with a 25-13 lead that stemmed, mostly, from a dominant defensive performance.

"It's always the story with our team: defense, defense, defense," Adams said. "Defense wins games, defense will lead to our offense and defense is what won us a championship tonight."

Manasquan's defensive dominance continued into the third and with a 31-15, the Warriors blew the game open. An Adams blocked led to a layup by sophomore Griffin Linstra and Adams then delivered a three-point play to push Manasquan's lead into the 20's, 36-15.

Adams then connected on a stepback three-pointer for a 39-16 lead and after a drive by junior Ryan Frauenheim made it 41-16, Adams blocked another shot and hit Frauenheim for a spot-up three-pointer that extended the Manasquan lead to 44-16.

"That's been the under-the-radar part about his game," Bilodeau said of Adams. "People like to talk about scoring but his rebounding has been outstanding. He was on the floor a couple times tonight getting after loose balls. That's why he is a big-time player and that's why we win."

Caldwell quieted the run with a three-point play by Rocco Checchetto, but Frauenheim came right back with another three from the right corner off a feed from Adams. With one more chance to add to the lead before the end of the third, Adams connected on a fadeaway in the final seconds and Manasquan rumbled into the third quarter up 49-19 and on an 18-4 run.

Manasquan's lead climbed as high as 36 in the fourth quarter, just after Bilodeau had pulled his starters for the night. In all, Manasquan outscored Caldwell, 24-6, in the third quarter and 37-16 in the second half.

Frauenheim finished with 13 points and three assists, while Konov came off the bench to deliver nine points on 3-for-4 shooting from beyond the three-point line.

Manasquan hit a rut on offense in the first quarter after scoring five points in the first 1:30. It took the Warriors five minutes to score their next point and after Adams broke the cold spell with a three from the top of the key, Manasquan was still in control, 8-2, because of its defense.

Konov then provided a spark by hitting his first shot attempt, which came right after he battled for a rebound on the other end. Konov would hit one more three-pointer in the first half and went to the locker room having provided six points and two rebounds to his team. Combined with senior Mike Flanagan, Manasquan got six points and five rebounds from its bench in the first half while the offense tried to get into gear.

"I just do what coach asks me," said Konov, who has been a spark off the bench since moving to the sixth-man role during the season. "If I am open, I am going to shoot it and I was feeling pretty good. We're all about defense and rebounding and we do it the right way. You play that end of the floor and you rebound, good things happen."

Senior Jack Dettlinger also carried his weight with six points and six rebounds and sophomore Griffin Linstra hounded Caldwell leading scorer Ray Zamloot into a 1-for-9 shooting performance that ended with Zamloot finishing with a season-low three points.

Dettlinger, Flanagan and Quinn Peters are the three key seniors on the team that will be moving on after helping Manasquan to win its first championship. Although Manasquan lost the Group II semifinal to Woodrow Wilson last season with a young roster, it was a painful experience to have to bid farewell to senior starter and leader Matt Solomon.

Adams, Frauenheim, Linstra and Konov will have a chance to win another state title again in 2024, but sending their senior teammates off with a championship was a priority.

Photo: Ray Rich Photography
Photo: Ray Rich Photography

"It's an amazing feeling to be able to send them out like this, especially after last year," Adams said. "I know Jack and Mikey and Quinn aren't the most talented guys on the team and they don't get a lot of the attention, but man, they're tough. They get rebounds, they're tough and they are a big part of our program."

"There are seven guys in the senior class and we have been very fortunate to have them," Bilodeau said. "I hope they feel the same about their experience here as we feel about them."

As for Adams, he finished another brilliant season with a similarly brilliant performance, which again came on a big stage. The 6-foot-3 sophomore scored the 1,000th point of his career during the sectional quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA Tournament and finished his season averaging 20.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Shore Conference and Group II champions.

"It's all glory to God, to be honest," Adams said. "I'm blessed with talent, and these teammates and coaches, especially. (Bilodeau) is something different. He teaches me everything, he yells at me when I need it and I appreciate him for that."

Two of Adams's signature performances came in Division I gyms, with Adams going off for 26 points at Monmouth's OceanFirst Bank Center in the Shore Conference Tournament final and then putting up his 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go with his exceptional rebounding, defense and playmaking at Jersey Mike's Arena.

"The atmosphere was crazy," said Adams, who has several Division I scholarship offers already, with Rutgers among them. "It would be lovely to play here in two years and I'm just looking forward to the next two in high school."

Adams has already won so much in a short time at Manasquan, but the road to a state championship has been a trying one for the Warriors program, which has been close to breaking through under Bilodeau, but could not get past the group semifinal stage on several occasions.

Since taking over the program in 2008-09, Bilodeau has led Manasquan to six sectional championships, but prior to this year, the Warriors had not made it to the group final in any of those seasons. They only appearance in a group championship was in 2004, when Raritan beat Manasquan in the Group II final.

Under Bilodeau, Manasquan was 0-4 in group semifinal games prior to Thursday's 46-43 win over Middle Township and even had a Group II semifinal against Camden canceled in 2020 as the COVID pandemic was breaking out around the world.

"We don't talk much about championships and winning," Bilodeau said. "They are a biproduct of what you do every day. If that's what you look for, you end up empty. The goal is to have a great experience, get better every day, be a man 20 years from now. I think it's an outstanding achievement. It's for the record books, it's something to write about. I'm sure the kids think about it, I'm sure the fans do. It's not something we talk about.

"What's more important is I can't remember the last time a kid has missed a practice at Manasquan. I can't remember the last time a kid has been late to practice at Manasquan. We don't have that stuff. We don't deal with it and that's the success of the program and the type of families those kids come from."

If Bilodeau is about experiences of championships, he was in store for another one on Saturday night. According to the Manasquan coach, his players have been jumping in the ocean every day and in trying to convince their coach to join him, they coaxed him into a friendly wager.

They got him his championship, and now he goes polar-bear plunging with them.

"I have seen some video. It doesn't look fun," Bilodeau said. "I promised them I would go in, but what the coaches didn't realize until yesterday is that they are all going in. So I told them to pack a bag. My son is ready, he's going in. Whether we like or not, we're going in. They deserve it."

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