2004-01-07 / Sports
Manasquan needs two OTs to outlast Pats
is instant classic;
Ubilla nets 41
is instant classic;
Ubilla nets 41
is instant classic;
Ubilla nets 41
BY TIM MORRIS
FREEHOLD BOROUGH — Jack Kuhnert would have loved it.
The opposing coaches — Manasquan’s Kurt Fenchel and Freehold Township’s Brian Golub — agreed it was the best game they had ever been apart of.
The third go-around in the Jack Kuhnert Holiday Tournament (named for Freehold Borough’s late coach) championship game, between the Blue Warriors and the Patriots was an instant classic. It was so good that it fittingly required two overtimes before Manasquan could secure the 99-94 victory on Dec. 30 at Freehold Borough. By that time, everyone — players, coaches and fans included — was exhausted. However, everyone knew they had been a part of something extraordinary.
"It was an incredible game," said the Pats’ Golub. "Manasquan played incredibly well, and I thought we did to.
"After the game Kurt said it was like a heavyweight fight that went 15 rounds," he added. "We both said it was the best high school game we’ve seen."
Manasquan’s Tommy White spoke for the players themselves.
"Everyone played a great game," he said. "It’s fun to play in a game like this. It was incredible. We just battled the whole game."
The game had it all, with both teams trading one great play after another. Neither could forge more than a six-point margin throughout the game.
In the end, no one lost this game, but the Warriors won it.
How does anyone win a game like this?
"It’s the one extra possession, one extra shot, that one extra turnover that makes the difference," said Fenchel.
In the finest final since Manalapan’s Ed Zucker put up a tournament-record 50 points in leading Manalapan to a comeback double-overtime win over St. Peter’s of Jersey City in 1981, it was a three-point play by Jeff Lee with 19.3 seconds left in the second extra session that gave the Warriors a 97-92 cushion that the Patriots could not overcome. Marcus Roberson gave Township one last hope with his putback with just 11.3 seconds left to make it 97-94. But the unshakable Tommy White would sink two free throws with 10.5 left on the clock to finally give his team the winning edge.
The Warriors had to overcome a brilliant performance from the Pats’ Manny Ubilla, who lit it up for 41 points and earned MVP honors for the second straight year.
"Ubilla was unbelievable," said Fenchel. "Today he put on a show I haven’t seen in a long time."
Ubilla carried the Pats in the second overtime, scoring nine of his team’s 11 points and helping to force a second OT. The senior guard caught fire in the second half, at one time scoring 11 straight points for Freehold Township.
Yet, it was a sophomore, Damian Csakai, who made the biggest play of the night for Freehold Township.
Back-to-back three-pointers from White helped the Warriors forge a 73-68 lead with under 2:30 to play. It looked like Manasquan had finally made the decisive separation between the two teams.
Then Csakai stepped up and made a four-point play. He sank a three-pointer from the baseline and was fouled. He made the free throw, and with 2:22 left, it was again, anybody’s game with Manasquan clinging to a 73-72 lead.
If that wasn’t enough, Csakai made another three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 75-73 Freehold Township.
Now it was Manasquan in dire straits. Chris Earley took it to the basket and was fouled. Hemade both free throws to tie the game at 75-75.
Even though 1:41 was left in the game, the Pats knew what they were doing.
"We were going to give Manny the ball and let him create," said Golub. "If they doubled him, he’d pass the ball to the open man, if they didn’t he’d take the shot."
Manasquan put Ubilla’s MVP counterpart, White (the tourney MVP in 2001), on Ubilla, and it came down to his shot at the buzzer but it was off the mark.
It was Manasquan’s turn to battle back in the first overtime, down 84-80 midway through thanks to seven points from Ubilla. But a basket by Mike Laird and a running jumper from White tied the game at 84. Ubilla put the Pats up again with a jumper and Lee responded in kind for Manasquan.
The Pats again held for the last shot, and this time Ubilla’s straight-away jumper in the lane had victory written all over it. The ball disappeared in the basket for a split second before rimming out at the buzzer.
The teams would have to go another four minutes to determine which one would be the holiday champion.
Manasquan scored the first hoop of the second overtime and had Freehold Township chasing the rest of the way. The Warriors would open up a four-point lead twice, but Ubilla and Walter Roberson responded for Freehold, closing the gap to one possession each time.
Finally, the three-pointer by Lee proved too much to overcome.
White, led the Warriors with 27 points, including seven for seven from the charity stripe. The Big Blue did not miss a free throw in the fourth quarter or in the overtimes, which Golub said proved to be the difference in the game.
Lee had 19, while Laird and Earley each had 16 for the undefeated (5-0) Warriors.
Walter Roberson (15) and Csakai (14) supported Ubilla’s 41-point effort. Ubilla drove Fenchel crazy trying to find someone to match up with him. He went to the stripe 19 times, sinking 16.
Freehold Township slipped to 3-1 with the loss.
This was the third-straight year that Manasquan and Freehold Township have met in the Kuhnert final.
"I told Kurt that it’s becoming a tradition," said Golub.
The first two were close games, with White leading Manasquan to the win in 2001 and Ubilla sparking Freehold Township in 2002. Another close game was anticipated, and no one was disappointed.
"We set goals for the season, and this was one of them," Fenchel said.
White noted that the goal the Warriors have had since he started as a sophomore was to bring basketball back to Manasquan. The Kuhnert championships, he said, have helped restore the school’s basketball tradition.
Manasquan almost didn’t make it to the final. The Warriors needed all of White’s free-throw shooting talents to hold off a gutsy Colts Neck five, 50-46, in the semifinal on Dec. 29 in Manalapan.
The Warriors were cruising, leading 43-31 in the fourth quarter when everything fell apart. Twice, the Cougars got within one points in the final minute. At 45-44, White sank two huge free throws to build the lead back to 47-44 with 36.2 second left in the game. His two free throws with 4.6 left and Manasquan clinging to a 48-46 lead, iced the victory and a third straight trip to the finals.
Freehold Township had no such danger beating Marlboro, 76-61, behind Ubilla’s 26.
Joining MVP Ubilla on the All-Tournament Team were his teammate, Walter Roberson, and Manasquan’s trio of White, Earley and Lee. The News Transcript sponsors the All-Tournament Team.
This was Manasquan’s third championship in the Kuhnert tournament. With 11 championships, host Freehold Borough has the most titles in history with the late Kuhnert having coached the Colonials to 10 of those championships.
Ubilla is just the second player to win back-to-back MVP titles, taking his place alongside Freehold Borough’s Louis Conover, who led the Colonials to championships in 1977 and 1978.