GONDA EARLY, MANIGAULT LATE: PHILLIPSBURG BOYS BASKETBALL RECLAIMS TROPHY
Phillipsburg High School's Richie Manigault endured a 3-point first half, uncharacteristic of his 22-point scoring average this winter.
But once the senior started, he didn't stop.
And once he got the ball during a critical final-minute possession, there was no question his shot was going up.
Manigault drained a decisive 3-pointer with 22.9 seconds remaining and Phillipsburg held off Nazareth for a 57-56 victory in the championship of the Jack Bennett Easton Rotary Holiday Classic at Easton Area Middle School on Friday night.
It's the third time in four years that the Stateliners have won the holiday title.
"They definitely gave us a run for our money," Manigault said. "We always come out here and give it our all in this tournament. It was really nice to come out with a win."
A bucket by Nazareth senior Nick Viva gave the Blue Eagles a 55-52 advantage with 2:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Stateliners senior Alain Gonda, who had a career-high 22 points, answered with a bucket to cut that margin to 55-54 with 2:20 left.
Phillipsburg then forced a steal and Manigault drained a long 3-pointer from straight-on to push his team ahead 57-55.
"I started off kind of slow -- 0-for-3, 0-for-4, whatever it was," said Manigault, who scored 17 of his 20 points after halftime. "But as a shooter, you always have to stay confident. Whenever you get the ball, you've got to believe the next one is going to go in."
The Blue Eagles (6-3) missed 3 of 4 foul shots in the game's final 8.9 seconds and the Stateliners escaped with the victory.
Phillipsburg (4-2) had a pair of seven-point leads on Friday night, but the majority of the game was played with a narrow margin separating the two sides.
As Manigault worked to find a rhythm, Gonda buoyed the Phillipsburg offense by doing what he does best: getting to the basket.
"That's definitely my strength," the senior said about attacking the rim. "But, I'm trying to work on my jump shot a little bit."
Gonda scored 10 of his 22 points in the first quarter and benefitted from quality ball movement by his teammates.
"He was unbelievable in the first quarter," Manigault said of Gonda. "He was what kept us in the game."
"We're a team; everybody contributes ... It was a team effort," Gonda said.
Manigault had a trio of 3s, but also had success finishing at the basket.
"I've just got to let the game come to me," he said. "Nothing was coming to me in the first quarter. Once it started coming to me, I just took what the game gave me."
The Stateliners were happy to rediscover Rotary success after being knocked off by Easton in last year's final.
"It definitely feels good," Gonda said. "We really wanted this. It's our senior year; we wanted to pull it out. The ball bounced our way down the stretch."
Nazareth senior Stephon Sheard was scoreless in the first quarter, but finished with 19 points. Viva matched his career-high with 16 points.
P'burg has rattled off four consecutive victories after dropping its first two games of the season.
"We just have to keep playing hard and working hard," Gonda said. "We need to keep coming to practice every day and keep the ball rolling. We need to play with confidence and use the same mentality every day."
The Easton boys smothered Southern Lehigh in the consolation game for a 55-42 victory.
The Red Rovers led 42-18 after three quarters of play.
Freshman Aaron Clark led Easton (6-3) with 14 points. Junior Asad Brown added 10 points.
Sophomore Daryl Coleman paced Southern Lehigh (2-6) with 10 points.
Kyle Craig may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleCraigSports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.