A defensive masterclass and a big-time shot by Richie Manigault comprised the Phillipsburg High School boys basketball team’s recipe for success on Saturday afternoon.
The Stateliners beat Hunterdon Central 42-41 at Wallkill Valley Regional High School, clinching a spot in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex championship.
Phillipsburg will meet Sparta in the county final on Friday at Centenary University.
After a few Phillipsburg turnovers, David Johansson gave Hunterdon Central a one-point lead from the foul line with a little more than a minute to play.
The Stateliners, unsurprisingly, brought Manigault, their leading scorer, off the bench with the game on the line, and the senior delivered. Manigault hit the game-winning jump shot with 18 seconds to play after breaking hard off a screen.
“It was just a mindset thing, when we came out of the timeout we were going to score,” Manigault said. “Defensively, it was the same thing. We just said they’re not going to score on us and that’s really what it came down to.”
After taking a 20-19 lead into halftime, the Red Devils scored just six points in the third quarter.
“We made a few adjustments on our bumps defensively at halftime. We got that cleaned up and the kids executed,” Stateliners coach Jerry Lloyd said. “I was so proud of the way our kids played defensively. That’s an unbelievable offensive team. So, for us to hold them to 41 points, it’s a credit to the enthusiasm and the effort they put forth.”
The Stateliners also had to make adjustments on offense early in the game as Manigault got into foul trouble, and had to be subbed in and out frequently.
“It was tough picking up four fouls so early in the game, my teammates really stepped up,” Manigault said. “They were able to make shots down the stretch and that’s what kept us in the game.”
Hunterdon Central stayed afloat thanks to the perimeter shooting of guards Sean Oberman and Aidan MacKnight. Lloyd knew that the Red Devils outside threat would pose a challenge to his team.
“They pass the ball extremely well, we knew it was going to be (about) a lot of communication on our part and being a little more physical with them,” Lloyd said. “We couldn’t let them cut through the paint the whole time and we had to be more physical with them.”
Oberman scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Red Devils close the gap on the Stateliners.
Manigault and senior center Alex Kollias both tallied 11 points for Phillipsburg. Guard Alain Gonda scored 10.
Apart from Oberman, no Red Devil scored more than six points.
Sparta will pose a different type of challenge to Phillipsburg, with a significant height advantage and consistent foul shooting.
No matter the challenge, Lloyd says that his team’s approach stays constant.
“Our keys are always the same, we have to play with a lot of energy,” he said. “Our kids have bought in defensively and, when we hold teams in the 40s, we’re a tough team to beat.”