The size of top-seeded Malcolm X Shabazz proved to be too much for No. 2 Manasquan to handle in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final as the Bulldogs won their second straight TOC title and sixth in school history 69-55 over the Warriors on Monday night at the Sun National Bank Center.
De’Ashia Jones and Zaire O’Neil made their presence felt early in the post, and on the offensive glass for the Bulldogs. Jones finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds and O’Neil scored a team-high 28 points and also pulled down 11 rebounds. Manasquan head coach Lisa Kukoda knew they were going to be in for a physical battle from the opening tip.
“They were a very physical team,” Kukoda said.
“I thought we came out aggressive and battled on the boards like we needed to, I think we came out and gave it our all we were just outmatched at certain times.”
The Warriors kept it close after the first two quarters of play, only trailing 27-22 at the end of the first half. It was the third quarter that proved costly for the Warriors, getting outscored 19-8. The overwhelming size of the Bulldogs took the fluidity out of the Warriors offense at times, stopping their ability to get to the rim.
“That’s a credit to Shabazz, they have a really strong defense,” Kukoda said.
“Their size took away our ability to score in the post, and some of our outside shots just weren’t falling for us tonight.”
Marina Mabrey finished with a game-high 30 points for the Warriors along with seven rebounds and two assists. Courtney Hagaman finished with seven points and freshman Stella Clark added eight points and three steals for the Warriors.
“They were just more ready than us today,” Mabrey said.
“We weren’t really careful with our passes, especially in the third quarter, and they got some big transition points off the steals they were able to get.”
There is still much to be proud of and much to look forward to for the Warriors. For the seniors it was a season of several tournament victories, including the WOBM, Shore Conference Tournament, and NJSIAA Group II titles.
“Throughout this season we relied a lot on our seniors, we had a great senior group, and we were also able to get some important experience for our younger girls,” Kukoda said.
The future will no doubt be bright for the Warriors next season, with Mabrey coming back for her senior year, and a season of valuable experience for freshmen Stella Clark and Addie Masonius.
Clark, who was usually the first off the bench for Kukoda to provide a needed spark, showed she wasn’t afraid of the big stage on Monday night. She took two of her three steals coast to coast for the Warriors in the first half, giving the Warriors a brief 22-21 lead.
“Her story all year is that she is not afraid to face anyone,” Kukoda said.
“She brings that same intensity and fire, and I think she showed today that she will be a force to be reckoned with for us moving forward.”
It was also a learning experience for Kukoda, who in her second season guided her team through to the TOC final.
“A lot of what we have done this season has been a learning experience for me,” Kukoda said.
“To get this far, it’s been an awesome ride this year and I’m very proud it was with this group of girls.”
Shabazz 69, Manasquan 55
Manasquan (55): Mabrey 8 11-12 30, Sullivan 1 0-0 3, Ford 1 2-2 4, Hagaman 3 0-2 7, Hart 0 0-0 0, Clark 3 2-2 8, Masonius 1 1-1 3, Bryant 0 0-0 0, Dugan 0 0-0 0, Palombi 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 16-19 55.
Shabazz (69): Negron 0 2-3 2, Cliney 4 3-8 13, Abdullah 0 0-1 0, O’Neil 13 2-5 28, Jones 5 4-4 15, Franklin 0 0-0 0, Robinson 1 6-6 9, Williams 1 0-0 2, Rattray 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 17-27 69.
3-point goals: (M) Mabrey 3, Sullivan, Hagaman; (S) Cliney 2, Jones, Robinson; Records: Shabazz (33-1); Manasquan (27-6).