Phillipsburg boys basketball team won two of its first three games this season.
But Stateliners coach Eric Jacobs wasn't satisfied with his team's performances in those games.
That wasn't the case on Monday night in Forks Township when Phillipsburg beat Notre Dame 64-52 to advance to the Easton Rotary Holiday Classic final.
"It was probably the best game we played this year. We start late in New Jersey so this is actually only our fourth game. I thought for the first time, we kind of looked like our old selves," Jacobs said. "We opened up the new gym in Phillipsburg. The first three games were home and typically that's an advantage, but we're all kind of getting used to the new digs. We've had huge crowds, which our guys aren't used to be playing in front of. We've been a little tight the first few games. But I think this is the first game, we finally like played relax and loose. I thought we played very well."
The Stateliners will look to keep that momentum going at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when they take on Wilson in the championship game. The Warriors beat Easton in Monday night's other semifinal. Phillipsburg will be looking for its second straight Rotary tournament title after winning its first in program history last season.
After Notre Dame cut Phillipsburg's lead to four points early in the fourth quarter, Stateliners junior Chris Mann answered with five straight points to extend the lead to nine. A basket by Notre Dame's Titus Wilkins cut the lead to 53-46, but the Crusaders would not get any closer.
"Defense," Mann said to the key to Phillipsburg's play in the fourth quarter. "We were slacking in defense in the third quarter. In the fourth, we picked it up, got our lead back and finished the game off."
"I was confident if we just got a couple stops defensively and kept doing what we were doing on the offensive end, that we would be fine. Our kids don't get rattled very easily. They're a pretty resilient bunch," Jacobs said.
Mann tallied 16 points to lead the Stateliners, including seven in the fourth quarter.
Phillipsburg junior Jayshawn Grant had 10 of his 15 points in the first half. His second half included a slam with 2:05 left in the fourth quarter.
Fellow junior Jermaine Knight was also in double figures for Phillipsburg, tallying 13 points.
Now, the Stateliners take on Wilson with another chance at a trophy.
"We expect them to have really good ball movement," Grant said about the Warriors. "We were watching them earlier today against Easton. We know what we got to do and we just got to get it done."
Josh Folck may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshFolck. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.