It was the opening night of the boys basketball season in Division I. And the NHIAA schedule makers were kind to high school basketball fans by matching up the division's 2 best teams. There was a lot of hype going into this game and it lived up to every bit of it.
Connor Green scored 25 points, with 16 of them coming in the 2nd half. And the Guertin defense held Central to just 19 2nd half points (and only 6 in the 4th quarter) as the #1 ranked BG Cardinals defeated the #2 ranked Central Little Green 62-55 in a raucous gym on Lund Road in Nashua on Friday night.
Below are the game's highlights, along with an interview with BG senior Connor Green at the end.
Couldn't Ask for Much More
It was a great game and a great atmosphere. #1 vs. #2 in the division. A packed house with not a seat to be found anywhere, many fans were up on the stage or standing up along the sidelines in order to see the action. The gym was also extremely loud, with fans making noise and both student sections out in full force. Towards the end of the game the student sections really got into it, yelling chants back and forth at each other. And the game itself had playoff type intensity from the opening tip to the final buzzer. It may have been the season opener, but this certainly had the feel of a state tournament game.
This Game Was Central's to Lose
For the majority of this game Central had the lead and were clearly the better team. They were getting strong play from 6'7" senior forward John Wickey, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
"John was outstanding" said Central head coach Doc Wheeler. "He's really developed some leadership skills, he anchors the back of our defense. And he's still getting better."
5'8" senior Joe Stisser returned from a knee injury to run the point for the Little Green. Stisser, along with Trinity transfer Dylan Lafond, junior standout Gabe LaCount and 5'8" senior Audie Melendez all worked together very nicely to neutralize the BG full court press and half court trapping defense.
"Joe just got cleared to play at the end of November" explained Coach Wheeler. "He's still not even close to the player he'll be a month from now."
Central was patient, they used effective ball fakes, they drove and kicked, hit the man in the high post and looked opposite, used good ball movement and as a result they were able to get open looks both inside and outside. Guertin was double teaming and overplaying all over the floor, so as long as you're strong with the ball and disciplined you can get some easy baskets against that type of defense - that's exactly what the Little Green did.
The result was 36 points in the 1st half for Central. Coach Wheeler's team went into the locker room up 36-27 and had to be feeling pretty good about the way they were playing. They jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the 1st quarter, they led 45-37 with 4:21 left in the 3rd quarter and with under a minute to play in the 3rd quarter Central led 49-41. In the 1st quarter I was impressed with the hustle of 5'10" senior guard Andrew Lam. Lam sprinted back on defense to knock the ball out of a BG player's hands which prevented a basket. And the very next time the Cardinals had the ball they drove it hard to the rim, but Lam came up with a big charge.
Green and Sean McClung helped to keep Guertin in the game, as they combined for 15 1st half points.
Different Story in 2nd Half
Like I said, Central led 49-41 late in the 3rd quarter. From that point on, BG outscored Central 21-6. 3 things changed in the 2nd half to swing the momentum:
1) Guertin picked up their defensive intensity
2) Central's guards started to hold the ball too long and dribble it too much, especially once they were doubled instead of moving it around and using ball fakes like the did in the 1st half.
3) BG started to gel together as a unit and moved the ball better offensively.
The first 2 factors went hand-in-hand. BG picked up their defensive intensity, really getting after it and pressuring the basketball. It seemed like they had 7 defenders out there instead of just 5. And just as this happened, Central's guards (especially Stisser and Lafond) weren't handling the pressure as well as they were in the 1st half. They started to dribble too much or just hold the ball too long and allow the Guertin defenders to either steal it or tie them up for jump balls. Kyle Remillard, Nick Pyzocha and Steve Cuipa all really picked it up on defense.
"We decided to play defense in the 2nd half" said a relieved BG head coach Jim Migneult. "We also tried out a few different looks defensively in the 1st half, but in the 2nd half we went back to the old school, straight up man-to-man defense and it worked out."
The Cardinals motion offense can often times create match-up advantages for the offense if ran properly. But if players just keep trying to go one-on-one every time it doesn't work. In the 2nd half BG was able to get out and run a little more and they moved the basketball better.
"In the end we played as a team" said Coach Migneult. "We were scoring off passes instead of scoring off the dribble."
Green was the main go-to-guy for Guertin, and the team's most consistent offensive player. He had a big steal and and-1 finish to begin the 4th quarter to put Guertin on top 50-49. On the Cardinals' next possession Green again made a big play, tipping in a teammates missed shot to make it 52-49 BG. This capped an 11-0 Guertin run.
Central then went on a 6-0 run of their own to take a 55-52 lead. Melendez made a couple of big plays, including a tough leaner from about 12 feet away that gave Central the lead back. Unfortunately for the Little Green, those would eb the last points they would score for the rest of the game.
Trinity transfer Logan Kesty also came alive for BG in the 4th quarter. With the team down 49-45, he caught a pass on the left wing on the secondary fast break, Stisser was late in closing out on him and Kesty drilled the three ball to make it a 1 point game, 49-48 Central. Moments later Kesty muscled in a bank shot to tie it up at 55-55. He then made a nifty move with the basketball, completely faking out the Central defender, leaning towards the rim and banking it in off the glass to give BG the 57-55 lead with 1:52 left in the game. It was Kesty's third big shot of the 4th quarter.
"In the 4th quarter he played big" said Migneult.
Stisser and LaCount then both missed the front end of a 1-and-1, so that's 4 points right there that Central could have had (and all of those free throws came when they were only down 57-55 to BG late).
Then Pyzocha (who had a solid all-around game) grabbed a loose ball near the hop and laid it in to put the Cardinals up 59-55 with 41 seconds left. Central then got called for a 10 second violation and Wheeler picked up a technical foul. Green netted 3 foul shots at the end for the 62-55 final.
Key Guys Who Didn't Play
For BG, 6'4" junior Joe McCarthy and 5'9" speedster Mike Kelly are both out with injuries. Both are expected back in the lineup in January. For Central, sharpshooting guard Stephen Ferge is off the team and the ultra-athletic 6'2" wing Junior Brown were both out due to disciplinary reasons.
"Brown will be back with us practicing tomorrow" said Wheeler. "He has the potential to be an all-state guy. We could have used him tonight."
"See You in Durham"
Those were Migneult's words for one of Central's assistant coaches as he they passed each other in the hallway outside the locker rooms after the game. The BG coach was obviously implying that he expects both of these 2 teams to make it to UNH for the Division I Final Four in March. Judging by the way both of these teams played tonight, and also the fact that both teams were playing with key guys out and with other key guys who were just barely cleared to play medically it is a safe bet that both of these squads will only get better as the season goes on.
They're the top 2 teams in D-I right now. And don't be surprised if it's still that way come March.