Phillipsburg High School's boys basketball team looked like it had a runaway on its hands.
Instead, it turned into a nail-biter.
The Stateliners, however, opened the game with a 12-point run and held on for a 45-44 Skyland Conference Raritan Division victory at North Hunterdon on Thursday night.
Lions junior guard Wes Reinagel scored back-to-back buckets to cut Phillipsburg's lead to 39-38 with 4:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Stateliners senior guard Richie Manigault knocked down a jumper from the elbow, on an assist from junior Brandon Yale, to push his team ahead 41-38 with 3:10 to go.
Senior Alex Kollias was sent to the line for Phillipsburg with 30 seconds on the clock. The forward made the first half of his 1-and-1 before missing the second part, but senior guard Alain Gonda was there for a putback, making the score 44-38.
North Hunterdon's Nick Guasta, a senior guard, drained a 3-pointer to shrink Phillipsburg's advantage to 44-41 with 16.7 seconds remaining. The Stateliners then missed the front of 1-and-1, but Manigault pulled down an offensive rebound.
"It's definitely effort," Manigault said of the offensive boards in the final minute. "They started to get a little lazy."
Kollias made another free throw to push the lead to 45-41. Reinagel swished a 3 in the closing seconds, but the Lions never got an opportunity to force a turnover because time expired.
Manigault knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with 19 points for P'burg (2-2). Gonda did most of his damage slashing to the basket and had 18 points.
"We expect that out of Alain," Stateliners coach Jerry Lloyd said. "Alex played well tonight. Brandon is coming along offensively. We need those guys to start chipping in along with (Stephen Willey) and (Kyle Sofhauser), just to give us a couple buckets here and there."
Manigault entered the season as the Stateliners' top returning scorer and most experienced varsity player. He's averaging 22.3 points per game through four contests.
"I'm trying to play within the offense and I'm not trying to do too much," the senior said. "I'm trying to let the game come to me and get my teammates involved. It's been working so far."
Reinagel paced the Lions (1-3) with 16 points.
Manigault drained two 3s right off the bat and Gonda made three drives to the hoop, which gave P'burg a 12-0 lead after 2 minutes and 43 seconds of action.
"When we came out at the start, we had a lot of energy," Manigault said. "But then, they went on a run. Every team is going to have its runs. (The win) really came from deep within. Our coach is always saying we have to keep that energy up throughout the game and, I think, we definitely brought it in the third and fourth quarters."
North Hunterdon cranked up its defensive pressure and disrupted the Stateliners offense, which only managed one field goal in the second quarter and went scoreless for 5:22 in the period. A layup by Reinagel at the halftime buzzer cut the visitors' lead to 22-21 at the break.
"The first three games, we've done really well not turning the ball over," Lloyd said. "It was our first time in a true road game. It got a little nuts. We'll learn from it and calm down."
With both teams playing a packed schedule to open the season, Lloyd wasn't shocked by a roller coaster-like performance.
"Four games in six days for both of these teams, it's almost a battle of attrition," he said. We just had to hang in there and gut one out, and we managed to do it. We got off to a great start. I knew our legs might go a little bit. And they did, but we hung on enough at the end."
Phillipsburg is .500 as it hits the holiday break before taking on Southern Lehigh in the Easton Rotary tournament.
"We're 2-2 with two tough losses in close games -- one to a buzzer-beater (vs. Parkland)," Manigault said. "I think we're looking good for the beginning of the season."
North Hunterdon, which defeated rival Voorhees 69-45 on Tuesday, will participate in Whitehall's holiday tourney, opening with Faith Christian (Sellersville).
Kyle Craig may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KyleCraigSports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.