The #6 seed Green Wave defeats #14 seed Exeter last night 63-60. Exeter battled hard, and made it a lot closer than it should have been.
How it Went Down
This was definitely a game of runs. It was back and forth in the beginning but then Exeter made a run late first quarter and early second. The Blue Hawks led 21-11 early on in the second quarter and it looked like we might see not one but two 14 seeds make it to the semi-finals (White Mountains was the other in boys Class M). Exeter was able to slow the pace of the game down and make it a grind it out game, which is in the favor. They pounded the ball down low to Tucker Munro (13 points, 9 rebounds) and Brad Holler was hitting three's (7 treys in his last 2 games).
But then Dover scored 16 straight points and went on a 26-4 run. They continued the run into the third quarter, building their largest lead of the game at 44-26. During this run everything was going Dover's way and everything was going wrong for Exeter. Dover was hitting three balls left and right from Alex Burt (18 points), Kenaan Al-Darraji (19 points) and Rory Duffy.
Then it was Exeter's turn to once again make a run. You might figure that since it was a 44-26 game in the second half that it was over. But there was no quit in these Blue Hawks. They battled back from 18 down in the second half, and with 5.4 seconds left they had a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. James Holler's last second three point attempt was no good and Dover escaped with a 3 point win when they should have won by at least 10.
The comeback was a team effort for Exeter, but most of the damage was done by senior guard Louie Vigars and senior forward Mike Fecteau. Vigars scored 11 of his team-high 13 points in the second half. The Blue Hawks also got some very good defense in the second half by both of the Holler brothers. And defense was definitely key to their run. They started pressing Dover full court, really getting in the face of the Green Wave players and getting into passing lanes. The defensive pressure of Exeter forced 16 second half turnovers by Dover. This allowed Coach Holmes' team to crawl back in the ballgame. Exeter kept turning those turnovers into quick baskets on the other end from Vigars, Fecteau and the rest of the crew.
Of course in the end it was too little too late for Exeter, as Dover held on for the in. The Green Wave made most of their free throws down the stretch (although Burt did miss 2 in a row which was surprising to see).
The Difference Was...
Offensive rebounding for Dover. I'm not going to beat around the bush or dance around it. Offensive rebounding for Dover is why they won this game. The Green Wave had over 25 offensive rebounds on the game, which is simply a staggering number. Exeter did not do a good enough job of boxing out defensively. And Dover did a very good job of getting after it on the offensive boards. They wanted the ball more than Exeter did. Duffy, Morgan Faustino and Justin Dube were all over the place, hustling for every loose ball and rebound. Of course it does help that Dover takes so many outside shots, which lead to long rebounds, which are easier for the offense to recover. But still 25 offensive rebounds in a 32 minute basketball game is just crazy. Not only was Dover getting all of these offensive rebounds, but they were were turning those offensive rebounds into quick baskets. They would either go right back up with a shot in the paint or kick the ball out to Burt, Al-Darraji or Duffy for a three. Dover getting offensive rebounds and taking advantage of them by converting them into scores was the reason they won this game.
Al-Darraji Quietly Becoming a Star
Everyone knows who Alex Burt is. Burt gets a lot of recognition, and deservedly so. But 6'0" guard Kenaan Al-Darraji is the silent assassin for Dover. He is quietly having an amazing junior season. Al-Darraji had led the team with 19 points last night and he had 21 in the prelims against North. I also saw him have huge games earlier in the year vs. Trinity and Winnacunnet, both wins for the Green Wave. This kid is shooting the ball with a ton of confidence right now, and he is also showing that if you play up on him too much to try and take away the three he'll go by you off the dribble.
"When Burt and Al-Darraji are both on at the same time they can beat anybody" said Winnacunent coach Jay McKenna, after his team got thrashed by Dover a few weeks ago.
Blue Hawk Seniors Have Nothing to Hang their Heads About
Dover moves on to UNH, but for Exeter this is the end of the road for a very good senior class. I said a few days ago that Merrimack had the best senior class in the state. But the Blue Hawks are definitely not far behind. James Holler, Tucker Munro, Louie Vigars, Mike Fecteau and Dan Driscoll. That's Exeter's whole starting lineup, and it's a heck of a senior class. They're 5 scrappy players who play the game hard and they play it the right way. All 5 will be sorely missed by head coach Jeff Holmes next season.
Looking Ahead to Dover vs. Pinkerton
I'm sure when most people look at this match-up their first reaction will be to say that Pinkerton has the advantage inside and on the boards while Dover has the advantage on the perimeter and shooting the basketball. But anyone who was at the Dover vs. Exeter game last night knows better. Folks who were there saw Dover get 25 offensive rebounds, and dominate the glass on both ends. Now granted, Pinkerton has much more size down low than Exeter does. But still, if the Green Wave hit the boards the way they did last night they will DEFINITELY hold their own in that department against Mathieu, Proulx and Patrikis on Wednesday night.
Also the bigger gym favors Dover, because they're a quicker team. They can spread the floor offensively, and move the ball for some easy shots while the slower Pinkerton players try to defend the larger playing surface.
Where I could see Dover struggling when they get to UNH is with their shooting and handling the ball against defensive pressure, both against a press or just in the half court. Because Lundholm Gymnasium is such a bigger gym than these high school teams are used to playing in, their depth perception will be way off, and it will be tougher for anyone to hit outside shots in Durham. And where Dover is a team that relies so much on the three ball it could definitely hurt them. And against the press Dover really struggled last night. Not only breaking the press but also getting into an offense and running a half court set against the in your face pressure of the Blue Hawks. This won't be as much of a factor vs. Pinkerton because they're not a pressing team. But if Dover does advance to the title game, they will face either BG or Winnacunet. Both of those teams press full court virtually all game long. Dover will have to work on beating the defensive pressure if they hope to defeate either of those teams. And they'll have to get used to shooting the ball at Lundholm in a hurry if they want to beat Pinkerton.
Is it Wednesday yet?!?!