Monday, December 20, 2010

Lebanon Boys With Statement Win Over Pembroke

I've gotta admit, I really enjoy the Lebanon sports fans. They are some of the most enthusiastic, passionate, supportive fans in New Hampshire. They are always looking for respect. Well, tonight I have no choice but to give respect to their boys basketball team.

Despite the fact that they graduated their whole starting lineup from last season, and 2 of their key players are football players who only pick up a basketball in the winter time, they went on the road and beat one of the most talented teams in the state.

Led by Zander Morrill's 19 points and 20 rebounds and David Hampton who had 18 points (including 5 three-pointers) the Lebanon boys basketball team beat Pembroke 64-59 in an intense, exciting game that went right down to the wire.

How it Went Down
Lebanon jumped out to an early 12-6 lead behind. Pembroke got back in the game though, thanks in part to a nice take and and-1 finish by 6'0" sophomore guard Matt Persons. The Raiders though did not back down. They continued to play well, and after Hampton drilled his third three of the 1st quarter Lebanon led 18-11. Pembroke 5'8" sophomore guard Rene Maher ended the quarter with a nice runner that went high off the glass and in, and the Lebanon lead was 19-13 after 1.

Hampton picked up his 3rd personal foul with just 2 minutes into the 2nd quarter and had to head to the bench. With Hampton out of the game the Raiders Morrill stepped it up. The 6'2", 300 pounder was a beast in the paint, grabbing rebounds and converting put-backs at will. 6'3" sophomore wing Matt Cowles also showed that he's a versatile player who can knock down shots off the dribble. Lebanon was able to obtain their largest lead of the game at 31-23.

But then Pembroke came right back and went on a 6-0 run to end the half. The Spartans were led by their starting 5 these 5 guys played virtually the entire game) of Maher, 5'11" freshman Patrick Welch, Persons, 6'3" junior guard/forward Kent Noyes and 6'4" junior forward Tyler Morrison. I was impressed by Welch, who finished with a game-high 22 points. He can really shoot the basketball. Welch has a smooth stroke, a quick release and there's no hesitation in his game. He is also a pretty good defender.

Scary moment for Lebanon came late in the 2nd quarter. Lebanon threw a cross-court pass intended for senior guard Kyle Farr. A Pembroke defender went up in the air to intercept it. he ball went out of bounds, and unfortunately Farr injured his finger on the play. He did not return to action. Lebanon led 31-29 at halftime.

The back-and-forth, hard fought, intense basketball continued in the 3rd quarter. Morrill continued his strong play inside. 6'3" junior forward Mark Davidson then came up with a nice rebound, put-back and and-1. Lebanon was killing Pembroke inside and on the boards.

Still, it was a tie game at 39-39 as Pembroke kept hanging tough. Welch continued to know down shots. Also, the Lebanon defense was focusing much of their attention on stopping Pembroke's "Big 3" of Welch, Maher and Persons. As a result, Noyes and Morrison kept getting open for jumpers. To their credit they were knocking them down, and making the raiders pay for helping off of them.

With 59 seconds left in the 3rd quarter the Spartans inserted seniors Nick Lavoie (transfer from Merrimack valley High) and Nathan Segedy into the lineup. This is notable because it was the first time all game that Pembroke used its bench. That's right - they went with the same 5 guys for the game's first 23 minutes. Shortly thereafter the starters were put back in and they stayed in for the rest of the game. The Spartans led 49-45 after 3 quarters (Pembroke's largest lead of the game).

Lebanon then scored an impressive 19 points in the 4th quarter to pick up the win. Welch hit a very nice pull-up shot from the baseline to begin the quarter. But then once again, Morrill went right back to work in the paint. He was grabbing rebounds and also showing some nimble post moves. He knocked down a free throw which put the Raiders up 54-53 with 4:17 left to play.

Pembroke then came right back down on the other end, getting to the rim. But 6'1" senior wing Marlin Hueil (who also chipped in with 8 points) hustled down the floor to get back on defense and made a big time blocked shot on Maher.

After another big rebound by Morrill (did I mention he grabbed 20 rebounds on the game?), Persons drilled a huge three-pointer off a nice drive and kick-out by Maher. The shot by Persons (who had 12 points on the game) put Pembroke back up 56-55 with 3:14 left in regulation.

Hampton then made a strong drive to the rim to get himself to the line. He made 1 of 2 foul shots, and the game was all tied up at 56-56 with 2:30 left. Pembroke then had possession, but just as they tried to make a pass along the perimeter Cody Patch (yes, the same Cody Patch who led the Lebanon football team to the D-IV title) jumped in front of the passing lane and picked the ball off. Patch took it all the way in for the score and put the Raiders back up 58-56.

Pembroke then became desperate and starting jacking up difficult shots. Back on the other end though, Davidson made a beautiful entry pass into the post to Morrill, who laid it in the basket and made it a two possession ballgame. Lebanon was now on top 60-56 with under a minute left in the 4th quarter.

It wasn't over yet though. The Spartans stormed right back, and Welch drained a three-pointer from a couple feet behind the line, and just like that it was only a 1 point game, with Lebanon up 60-59.

Those would be the last points of the evening for Pembroke though. And Lebanon would add 4 more free throws - 2 each by Hampton and Davidson. And the previously #10 ranked Lebanon Raiders had pulled off an early season upset by beating #3 ranked Pembroke 64-59.

Coach Alosa's Take
"No disrespect to Lebanon - they're a good team" explained Pembroke head coach Matt Alosa. "But we played terrible. Our guards tried to go 1-on-3 all game on offense and on defense we gave Hampton too many open looks. We can get any shot we want, but we settled for bad shots. We're a young team and tonight it showed. I'm very disappointed."

Coach Matte's Take
You won't find a faster 300 pound kid anywhere - and he's athletic" said Lebanon head coach Keith Matte, speaking about Morrill. "We are able to play at a faster pace this year, and that is a direct result of David Hampton being able to handle the ball. He plays AAU with the Pembroke kids, so he's used to it. He did a pretty good job of guarding Welch too. I told david to guard him, because nobody else can."
"As for Farr, he dislocated his finger. They took him to the emergency room. We're headed over there now to see how he's doing."

My Take
This was a very exciting, hard fought basketball game between two good teams. It was only the second game of the season for both squads, but they both looked like they were in mid-season form. Definitely two teams I expect to have home playoff games come March. I thought Lebanon looked pretty darn good for a team that graduated 5 starters (including last year's Player of the Year Jake Woodward). Not to mention the fact that Morrill and Patch only pick up a basketball 4 months out of the year. And Davidson is also a football player (although he did play AAU basketball) who is still getting back into basketball shape after helping Morrill and Patch bring Lebanon the state title. Not only that, but Cowles is still recovering from a concussion that he suffered at one of the team;s first practices.

You have to give Coach Matte a lot of credit. He has a team that should only get better as the season goes on, and looks to once again be a top 5-6 team in Division II. Considering all of the talent they lost that is something worthy of recognition. The team they had last year was a slow-down, half court team. They didn't like to run, the preferred games in the 40's. If last year's team was forced to play at the pace tonight's game was played at they would have gotten ran out of the gym by a faster, more skilled Pembroke team. This year though it is clear that Lebanon can play the game at any pace. That's impressive stuff for such an inexperienced squad.

As for Pembroke, they are still a top 5 team in D-II, no question. They expect to have 6'3" freshman forward Jordan Williams back in the lineup next week for holiday tournament action. That will definitely help them, not only with their depth but also with their rebounding. For a kid that is only a freshman and already 6'3", Williams is very athletic and is tough on the boards.

The scary thing about Pembroke is that their top 6 guys are all either freshmen, sophomores or juniors and their top 3 guys are either freshmen or sophomores. Not only will they have the same guys coming back for the next couple of years, but virtually all of their main guys play together year-round. They play for Pembroke during the winter and summer leagues. And then during the spring, summer and a little bit into the fall they play together with the GS Raiders AAU program (coached by Matt Alosa's father Frank) where they not only continue to gel together as a unit but the also run the same system and sets as they do for Pembroke.

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