Leger, Mangini lead Braves to 66-63 victory over Allentown


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MANALAPAN — After losing consecutive games to Shore Conference A North Division rivals Freehold Township High School and Christian Brothers Academy, the Manalapan High School boys basketball team found its groove again in its next two games.

The Braves stopped their two-game losing skid with a 68-57 victory over Red Bank Regional High School of Little Silver on Jan. 13.

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They kept the winning momentum going when they hosted Allentown High School on Jan. 14 in Manalapan. Junior Anthony Leger and senior Zach Mangini led the way to a 66-63 victory as the Braves improved to 7-6 in the 2022-23 season.

“When we play our game and everyone is playing their role, we can be a scary team,” Leger said after the victory over Allentown. “We had a really big win against Red Bank Regional and we beat a really good, scrappy Allentown team. We can go a long way up from here.”

Against Allentown, Mangini provided a spark off the bench. Late in the first quarter he converted a three-point play to give the Braves a 13-8 lead over the Redbirds.

In the second quarter, Mangini hit two three-point field goals to help Manalapan take a 29-19 lead at halftime.

“I’m just trying to come off the bench and help my team,” he said. “My teammates held down the fort to start and I just came in to do my job.”

Midway through the third quarter, Mangini connected on his third three-point field goal of the game to extend the lead to 36-26. He finished with a season-high 18 points in the contest.

Leger put his stamp on the game by taking control in the third quarter. The junior guard found his stroke from beyond the arc as connected on three of his game-high four three-point field goals to lift Manalapan to a 53-36 lead with 1:33 to play in the quarter.

Leger scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the third quarter. He has scored 20 or more points in four of Manalapan’s last six games.

“The ball was falling. I’m an all-around player. It’s not just making three-pointers. I also like getting my teammates involved,” said Leger, who transferred from Mater Dei Prep in Middletown and leads the team in scoring at more than 14 points per game.

Leger said he believed he could make an impact at Manalapan right away, stating, “I knew there was something here. I felt like we had the right players and coaches where I could make an impact. I think we can shock a lot of people.”

Manalapan took a 53-41 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Redbirds from rural western Monmouth County battled back and trailed 62-60 with :44 to play.

Mangini was fouled after Allentown had closed the gap to two points and he made two free throws for a 64-60 lead with :20 to play.

Allentown’s Ray Gooley, who finished with 21 points, delivered a three-point play for the Redbirds to make it 64-63 with :10 to play.

After Gooley’s basket, the Redbirds fouled senior Dylan Sullivan and he came up clutch by knocking down both shots from the charity stripe to make it 66-63.

Allentown had a final chance to tie the game and force overtime, but Leger did a good job closing out Gooley on a three-point attempt and his shot missed the rim.

“Sometimes the ball bounces your way when you need it,” first-year coach Matt Conklin said. “(Dylan Sullivan) is one of the guys we want at the line and for him to make those free throws was great. We got a great close on (Gooley’s) shot at the other end and thankfully it didn’t fall.”

Senior Kassan Scott scored nine points in the paint for Manalapan and Jake Buchman added eight points in the victory.

Following the wins over Red Bank Regional and Allentown, Manalapan will gear up for a week of rivalry contests against Howell High School, Freehold High School and Marlboro High School. The first of those three games will be at home on Jan. 17 against Howell.

“Everybody on our schedule is tough. We are not going to back down from anyone. We are trying to get better every day and to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament,” Conklin said.

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