The Phillipsburg and North Hunterdon boys basketball teams had a frantic, up-and-down contest on Thursday night.
But, it was a steady, cool hand from the foul line that preserved a Stateliners victory.
Visiting Phillipsburg, ranked sixth by lehighvalleylive, defeated the No. 3 Lions 76-70 in a Skyland Conference Raritan Division contest.
The Lions (4-4) trailed by 17 points in the second half but narrowed the deficit to four when senior Xander Braun sank two free throws to make the score 68-64 with 2:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Phillipsburg seniors Chris Mann and Jayshawn Grant each sank a pair of free throws to keep North Hunterdon at bay.
Braun, however, battled to reclaim his own miss and scored while being fouled with 53.5 seconds on the clock. He made the ensuing foul shot to bring the Lions back within 72-68.
Two more foul shots from Mann and a jumper by North Hunterdon sophomore Wes Reinagel made it 74-70 with 30 seconds left.
“We talk to our kids about being able to step up to the line and make foul shots at the end,” Stateliners coach Jerry Lloyd said. “As crazy as it was, with all the nutty stuff that went on and with us turning the ball over, we still had enough composure to make our foul shots at the end of the game.”
The Lions, however, missed a pair of free throws, and then failed to cash in on a couple of Phillipsburg turnovers in the game’s closing sequence.
The Stateliners made their final eight free throw attempts.
“They run that crazy pressure,” Mann said, referring to North Hunterdon’s extended defense. “At the end, it started to get to us a little. All game it’s hard to play against that. We just stuck through it and got the win.”
Mann gave the Stateliners (6-3) adequate breathing room with a couple more from the charity stripe with 16.3 on the clock.
North Hunterdon basketball coach Kyle Rehrig talks to his players during a timeout (Saed Hindash | For lehighvalleylive.com)
P’burg built up a big advantage thanks to a 12-1 run in the second quarter, during which the Stateliners created a boatload of second-chance opportunities.
“We were dominating the offensive glass and we were able to get some easy buckets when we beat the press,” Mann said.
“We took good shots in the second quarter,” Lloyd said. “Our biggest thing is consistency. Everything is consistency. We play well in spurts. We have to keep working on playing a full game in every aspect of the game … But, our kids hung tough and they kept fighting.”
Senior Jermaine Knight hit a 3-pointer in the second quarter’s closing moments to give the ’Liners a 51-36 lead at intermission.
“The second quarter killed us,” North Hunterdon coach Kyle Rehrig said. “We didn’t have any energy, we were flat, and they capitalized. They got a lot of easy layups; they killed us on the boards; they were just more physical than us. We dug ourselves a hole, which we’ve done a lot this year. We battled back, but it’s tough to battle back from 16 every night.”
The Lions clawed their way into the contest by scoring the final 10 points of the third quarter. Junior Chris Hale scored a layup off an assist from senior Jack Malley make it 59-52 headed into the fourth.
“We didn’t rebound the ball well enough,” Lloyd said of North’s comeback bid. “They were getting multiple shots. We’d play pretty good defense and then not rebound the ball. We’ve got clean that up; it’s kind of been one of our Achilles all year.”
“We were just throwing the ball away,” Mann added. “We weren’t handling the pressure well. We were turning the ball over again and again.”
The ’Liners appeared to be pulling away midway through the last period, before the Lions’ final rally.
Mann jammed in a dunk, grabbed a steal, and scored a layup to make it 66-56 with 4:33 to go. He then denied North senior Paul Woolhouse’s attempt to posterize him.
“We’re really close,” Mann said. “He probably wanted to get me good, but I pulled off a block … It was big.”
The Army West Point recruit, who became the ninth P’burg boy to score 1,000 career points on Saturday, finished with 26 points.
“It was in my head a little bit, but I just need to keep playing hard every night and continue to do what I do,” Mann said of the milestone.
Junior Richie Manigault added 18 points for Phillipsburg and Grant finished with 16.
Woolhouse scored 12 points in the second half and finished with a team-high 18. Reinagel tallied 17.