"They treated this like the state championship game, we played our whole team and were just trying to get better and work on things" said Portsmouth head coach Jim Mulvey.
That may be the case, but you still have to give Spaulding credit for the way they pressured the basketball defensively and made key shots when they counted down the stretch.
Behind a strong defensive effort that forced 20+ turnovers, the Spaulding boys basketball team beat Portsmouth 51-40 in the Oyster River Holiday Classic championship game Thursday night in Durham.
Here's the game's complete recap, plus video highlights and a post-game interview with Player of the Game Brian Cronin.
Both Teams Struggled Against Press
Both Spaulding and Portsmouth had over 20 turnovers. Both squads brought full court pressure for virtually the entire game. For Spaulding, it was their small but speedy and tenacious back court of Justin Slattery and Taylor Guilian that was effective all game. Both players really got after it on defense, pressuring the Portsmouth guards all over the floor.
Slattery is one of the best and most underrated defenders in the state. Guilian meanwhile made a big time play late in the game to seal the win for the Red Raiders. After Spaulding had already built a 45-33 lead, Guilian made a steal as soon as Portsmouth crossed half court. The ball was then stolen back by the Clippers, but Guilian stayed wit the play and stole it back. He then took it all the way to the rim, finished the basket plus the foul. Just like that it was 48-33 Spaulding.
Cronin & Paradis Start Slow, but Hit Big Shots Late
Spaulding's top scorers are senior guard Brian Cronin and sophomore forward Dominic Paradis. However neither player scored their first points until the last minute of the 2nd quarter (Paradis' points came on a turnaround buzzer-beating three pointer). The Red Raiders still somehow led 20-16 at the half though!
Both players were very quiet offensively all the way up until the 4th quarter. That's when Cronin heated up and drilled 3 three balls to finish with a game-high 13 points. Right after Portsmouth point guard Kamahl Walker (a junior transfer from Worcester, MA) hit a big three which cut the Spaulding lead to 38-33 with about 5 minutes left to play is when Cronin went to work. He hit back-to-back treys in the span of about 30 seconds and just like that the Spaulding lead went from 5 to 11. After the big and-1 play by Guilian, Cronin then poured in yet another three which made it 51-33 Spaulding with just under 2 minutes left. Game over.
Paradis meanwhile only had 5 points but they were both big field goals. The first was the buzzer-beating three at the end of the 1st half of course. And the second one was a big mid-range jumper he hit from the left elbow which gave Spaulding a 38-30 lead with 5:12 remaining. Paradis also grabbed 6 boards for the Red Raiders.
Also playing well for Spaulding was forward Ian Christie, who brought toughness inside, battling in the post with Portsmouth forward Riley McCarthy all game long. Christie won the match-up between the two seniors, posting 11 points and 10 rebounds in the process.
This was the championship game of this tournament, but you wouldn't be able to tell that judging from the way the coaches rotated their players in and out. Just 1 minute into the 2nd quarter and both squads had already played 10 kids. Portsmouth ended up playing all 12 players who were dressed for the game. If this were a regular season or NHIAA tournament game you can bet both teams would have gone with 7 or 8 player rotations. In that aspect it definitely felt more like a scrimmage than it did a championship game.
Clippers Back Court Was Solid in Defeat
Walker doesn't have very much varsity basketball experience at all before this season. And combo-guard Terrance Herbert is only a sophomore who played JV last year. And while they did have a few turnovers, for the most part Walker and Herbert played like seasoned veterans. Walker has a very good pull-up jumper that he can make on the baseline, around the elbow or from three point land. He also made a nice step-through move to get to the rim (the same move he made on the break in the scrimmage vs. Dover which completely faked out the Green Wave defender). He finished with 8 points, 4 assists and 4 steals. Herbert meanwhile is a tough competitor who certainly doesn't play like a sophomore. He's a good spot-up shooter, and like Walker was effective at handling the basketball against defensive pressure. Herbert had a team-high 10 points to go with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
Also playing well for the Clippers in the loss was sophomore wing Malcolm Woodliff-Bulloch (had a nice blocked shot in transition), big man Quinn Hegarty (was solid on the baords with some nice put-backs) and Greg Tsougranis (a "glue guy" who does all the little things well).
Portsmouth was once again playing without their best player, junior wing Kyle DiCesare who is still out with a suspension. He is out for 6 games, not including holiday tourney games. So that's right, he WILL miss the game when Portsmouth plays Milford coming up.
Oyster River Wins 3rd Place Game in OT
In the 3rd place game of this tournament, Oyster River beat St. Thomas 48-46 in overtime. STA should have won it in regulation, however.
After a couple of big jumpers by 6'4" junior forward Chris Haaser, the Saints were up 42-39 with under a minute left. They missed 3 free throws in the final minute though, plus got called for traveling in the back court. If they make just 1 of those 3 free throws they win it in regulation. Instead, the Bobcats had the ball down 42-39 with one last chance to tie it up and go to overtime. That's when 6'0" senior guard Chris Walker hit a desperation three pointer at the buzzer from a couple feet beyond the top of the key. We were tied at 42-42 and headed to OT.
In overtime Oyster River guard Nick DiVeglia made a nice move along the baseline and laid it in to put the Bobcats up 48-46 with 35 seconds left. They held on from there for the 48-46 final.
All-Tourney Team & MVP
Terrance Herbert - Portsmouth
Adam Goodwin - Oyster River
Chris Haaser - St. Thomas
Shaun Munson - Winnacunnet
Brian Cronin - Spaulding
Ian Christie - Spaulding