Another signature defensive effort, along with 30 points and 5 assists from Marina Mabrey, led Manasquan to its second NJSIAA Central Group II title in three years, defeating Holmdel 68-49 on Monday night.
The fourth-seeded Warriors got into a bit of foul trouble early, as Mabrey and Sam Sullivan each were hit with two personals, leaving Manasquan head coach Lisa Kukoda with some tough decisions right out of the gate.
With only a 20-14 lead after one, Kukoda stuck with her two starters, trusting her players would make the adjustments needed to stay on the court.
“We like to play an aggressive style of defense, but you have to be able to adjust to the way the game is being called,” Kukoda said. “I trust their basketball IQ, I knew that they would be able to still play good defense, but also be smart about it at the same time, and we were able to get them through.”
The game plan going into the game for the Warriors was to try and limit Holmdels’ Morgan Graziano and Mia Ehling on the offensive side of the floor. Manasquan was able to do just that, holding them both to just 10 total points combined at the end of the first half.
“Even though we had people in foul trouble, Eva Hart was big for us defensively tonight,” Kukoda said. “We have certain people that we need to pick up, and making those rotations is what it’s all about.”
After taking a 36-22 lead into the half, the Warriors exploded for a 21-6 run in the third quarter. It was Mabrey and Courtney Hagaman who combined for 17 of the Warriors’ 21 points in the third. Mabrey was able to find Hagaman on several backdoor cuts on the big third-quarter run.
“Courtney is always moving without the ball, and I’m able to find her,” Mabrey said. “Once I drive she is able to find the right spot on the court, she is always looking to make a play and help our team, so it just makes it easier to find her in those open spots.”
Mabrey once again showed there is more to her game than just her ability to score the basketball. It’s something that Kukoda has grown accustomed to seeing from the junior, so it may have came as a surprise when she asked her coach if she was shooting the ball too much.
“We talked at halftime, and she said she felt like she was taking too many shots,” Kukoda said. “I told her she had a great basketball IQ, and to go out and just do what you have to do, she does a very good job at making reads, and I was very happy with what she did tonight.”
Kukoda also liked what she saw from her motion offense as a team in the second half, against man-to-man pressure from Holmdel.
“I thought that we did a very good job of moving the ball in the second,” Kukoda said. “They were able to drive and kick and get good looks.”
Along with the potent offense, it’s the aggressive defense that seems to be the calling card for Manasquan late in the season.
“I think that our defense is one thing that kind of labels us,” Mabrey said. “In the beginning of the game they were scoring easily, but we made some adjustments and got into the passing lane, and played the defense the way we know how to.”
Ehling finished with 15 points for the Hornets and Graziano added 8 more.
Manasquan will look to continue its dominant play on both sides of the ball in the NJSIAA Group II semifinal on Wednesday against Cedar Creek 7 p.m. at Williamstown.