The most highly anticipated games between elite teams rarely live up to expectations.
The double overtime thriller between No. 1 Manasquan and No. 2 Long Island Lutheran exceeded them.
Visiting Manasquan returned to the Jersey Shore with a scintillating 71-67 victory in a game that left those lucky enough to be at LuHi Sunday afternoon breathless and wishing there was a rematch on the horizon.
Like a Hollywood thriller, there were plot twists on top of plot twists as the top two teams in News 12 Varsity’s Tri-State Top 20 proved their lofty rankings.
“The feeling during the game, I don’t think you actually some of the positions you’re in because it’s play after play,” Manasquan junior guard Dara Mabrey said. “Every single play is exciting, whether you know it or not.”
The teams’ best players also played their best in the star-studded affair. For Manasquan (9-0), Mabrey was spectacular, the junior guard finishing with a game-high 33 points.
“She’s just great,” Long Island Lutheran coach Rich Slater said. “It was fun watching her.”
Mabrey was complimented by Faith Masonius, the versatile 6-foot super sophomore who had 15 points, including a buzzer beating 3-pointer that forced a second overtime.
Masonius buried the shot from the top of the key after a rebound and kick out by her sister, Addie, a plucky undersized guard who did a lot of the dirty work.
“It’s kind of just in the moment,” Faith said. “That is my favorite spot to shoot from, but I can’t do it without that great rebound.”
Long Island Lutheran (7-1) was paced by sophomore Celeste Taylor, who scored 18 of her team-high 22 points after halftime, and junior Amani Free, who struck for 17, including a the tying layup with 6.1 seconds remaining in the second half to send the game into overtime.
“I thought she played her tail off today,” Slater said. “I was really happy with Amani.”
Despite struggling offensively, LuHi went into halftime with a 25-22 lead thanks to a stifling defense and a strong first-half by Free, the athletic swing who led all scorers with 11 at halftime.
The second half featured a one-on-one battle between Mabrey and Taylor, who went shot for shot while guarding each other.
Mabrey and Faith Masonius combined for a 9-0 run that gave the Warriors a 37-36 lead late in the third quarter, their first advantage since 4-2.
But Grace Stone, who was automatic from the free throw line, knocked down a jumper with four seconds left in the quarter to put the Crusaders in front, 42-39, heading into the fourth.
Manasquan opened up a four-point lead in the fourth on a putback by Lola Mullaney with 3:56 left, but Emma Cuccurullo and Marika Korpinen responded with back-to-back baskets to tie the score at 48 with 3:07 remaining in regulation.
A layup by Faith Masonius off a screen set by Mabrey, gave Manasquan a 50-48 lead with 1:06 left. It appeared the Warriors would win in regulation, but a Taylor steal led to a breakaway layup by Free with 6.1 seconds left to tie the score at 50.
A pair of free throws by Stone gave LuHi a 60-55 lead with 25 seconds left in overtime, but Mullaney nailed a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left. After Taylor went 1-for-2 from the foul line, Faith Masonius knocked down a three at the buzzer to tie the score at 61.
“I knew it was going it because of the way she let it go,” Mabrey said. “We’re usually good in those types of spots when we get down a bit because we usually capitalize on things.”
Faith Masonius scored inside twice in the second overtime and her sister Addie went 1-of-2 from the line to give the Warriors a 69-67 lead with 7.8 seconds left.
A corner 3-point attempt by Korpinen rimmed around and out with three seconds left. Mabrey grabbed the rebound and knocked down a pair of free throws to seal an epic road victory.
“It’s a great step for us coming to practice tomorrow and our next game,” Mabrey said. “A lot of people didn’t think we’d come up here and win this game.”
Slater wasn’t one of them.
“I kept saying all week it was going to be a one-possession game and there’s no letdown with those guys. I was really impressed with them,” Slater said of Manasquan. “We’re young, but we have to learn how to close these games out. It stinks losing, but I thought it was a great game and they deserve a lot of credit.”