Friday, January 14, 2011

Bow Boys With Big Road Win Over Raymond


In a match-up between 2 of the top 5 teams in Division III boys basketball, Bow prevailed with a 62-56 win on the road against an upstart Raymond team.

It was a game of runs in the 1st half, and then back-and-forth in the 2nd. In the end the difference for Bow was experience and rebounding. Good win for the Falcons, who improve to 7-1 on the season.

2 Very Different Teams
Bow is a big, physical team. They have a strong inside game, and prefer to play a half-court. They only play about a 6 man rotation, sometimes expanding it to 7. So a fast, full court game is not to their liking. Raymond meanwhile is a MUCH smaller team. They are however a quicker team, they have more kids who can handle and shoot the basketball and they're deeper. So obviously they're a tea that wants to push the tempo against Bow.

Inside Bow has 6'4" senior Josh Faber, 6'5" senior Max Heindl, 6'3" senior Gregg Froleiks. These guys are all bigger than Raymond's biggest guys who are 6'2" forward Jeff Lang, 6'1" forward Tom Daigle and 6'1" wing Matt Esancy. Then Bow also has Ryan Hill who plays on the perimeter but at 6'2" is as big as Raymond;s biggest guy.


Game of Runs in 1st Half
Bow got off to a quick 7-0 start out of the gate in this game. Senior 5'10" guard Erik Michaud (team-high 15 points) banked in a three from the top of the key, then fellow senior 5'11" guard Connor Hill (10 points) laid it in on the break as a result of poor transition defense by Raymond. Then Hill hit a turnaround jumper on the baseline to make it 7-0. One team came out sharp off the opening tip and the other team did not.

It's a 32 minute game though, and a 7 point deficit is nothing to this Raymond team, especially at home. The Rams came storming right back with an 8-0 run of their own. Senior 5'11" guard Kevin Paynter (team-high 15 points) nailed back-to-back deep jumpers to get them back in it, the sophomore 6'0" point guard Jordon Richard (14 points) came off a curl on the right side, caught the ball, took it hard to the rim and finished plus the foul. Just like that Raymond was on top 8-7.

Now it was Bow's turn to once again go on a run. The Falcons went on a 16-4 run to take a 23-12 lead with 5:21 left in the 2nd quarter. Michaud and senior 6'2" wing Ryan Hill drained back-to-back threes for Bow as part of the run. The Falcons also took advantage of their size inside and on the boards going against a much smaller Raymond team.

"They out-rebounded us, they're bigger than us, and we weren't boxing out" said Raymond head coach Rich Winget, who was in a little bit of shock following his team's first loss of the season.

Give Winget's team credit, though. They were down by 11, but they just kept fighting. They went on a 9-2 run to cut the Bow lead to just 25-21 late in the 1st half. Esancy made a great hustle play to make a save while diving out of bounds towards his own team's bench. The hustle was contagious, as right after that Richard and reserve guard Ethan Mathieu also made a nice hustle play. Richard hustled back on defense, poked the ball out of the hands of the Bow player's hands, then dove on the floor for the loose ball. He tipped it, and just as it was about to go out of bounds Mathieu ran towards it, saved the ball and called timeout just as he was falling out of bounds. There were a number of these types of plays tonight by the Rams. They may have lost this game, but it DEFINITELY wasn't due to a lack of effort.

"I'm very proud of my guys" said Coach Winget. "They fought hard, they're tough kids."

Raymond was not only pushing the tempo, but they also started to pick up the defensive intensity. The biggest key though to their current run was limiting Bow to one shot on offense, and keeping the Falcons off the offensive boards. Doing a nice job of this was Richard, Esancy and Daigle.

With Bow now only up 25-21, Connor Hill answered back with a big play. Hill drove the ball down court on the break, took it right to the rim against a bigger Raymond defender. He finished it strong off the glass and also got fouled. Big play for the veteran Hill, and as a result Bow went into the locker room up 28-21.


Back-and-Forth 2nd Half
The beginning of the 2nd half went just as the entire 1st half did - with a run. Raymond came out of the locker room hitting on all cylinders, going on an 8-1 run, tying the game up 29-29. Even more impressive is that it only took the Rams 1:29 to go on that run. Clearly they were able to do it by getting out on the break. Esancy and junior 5'10" guard Joe Morin had quick hoops. hen Raymond got out on a 2-on-1 break, and Richard made a nice dish do Esancy on the break. Esancy, who is an unsung hero for the Rams, ran the floor very well in this game, and this was helped by the fact that he had the Bow big guys covering him all game and he is much quicker tha them. Raymond was smart to take advantage of this. Richard then made another nice pass for a layup.

After the 8-1 run by Raymond, it was back-and-forth for the rest of the game, with over 10 lead changes. As the game went on things got a little physical and chippy, the intensity went up and the crowd got louder. It is clear that both of these squads will be there at the end.

Faber had to head to the bench for Bow with 3 fouls with 4:36 left in the 3rd. Richard then made yet another great play for Raymond. He made a steal, missed the lay-in against a much bigger Bow player, stayed with the play though and stole the ball right back. This time he took it hard to the basket for the and-1 finish. This kid definitely doesn't play like a sophomore, and he finished with 14 points, 8 steals, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. The play by Richard gave Raymond their first lead of the game, 34-33 with 3:55 left in the quarter.

Michaud answered right back though for Bow. He made a very nice crossover around the top of the key, then sliced his way into the paint and made an athletic finish off the glass to put Bow back on top 35-34.

Lang then fouled out for Raymond with 2:34 left in the 3rd. Lang is an important player for Raymond, but he was in foul trouble all game and when he was in there was went 0/5 from 3 point range. This performance is unlike Lang, so when these teams meet again the Rams can expect more production from Lang. They also expect to have starting forward Dezimen Everett back in the lineup from injury.

"Dezimen tore a ligament in his ankle playing football" said Winget. "We hope to have him back in 2 weeks."

Esancy then once again got out on the break and finished for Raymond, putting the Rams on top 38-37. Then came another nice play for Raymond. Bow was playing some tough pressure defense in the half court. Richard nearly lost the ball, but then picked it back up and found Mathieu inside. Mathieu then immediately made a nice dish down low to Daigle for the layup. Great ball movement and poise by Raymond against some tough defense by Bow.

The game was all tied up, 41-41 heading into the 4th quarter.

In the 4th quarter the teams continued to trade the lead back-and-forth. Michaud hit another three-pointer for Bow to give them the lead early in the 4th. Morin then answered right back and hit a three of his own to give Raymond the lead right back. The gym at Raymond High was really rocking at this point.

Moments later it was Faber who hit a big three for the Falcons, to put them up 49-48. Faber at 6'4" is a big, burly guy who typically plays inside for Bow. But on this play he stepped out to knock down a big-time three pointer. Morin through once again answered right back for the Rams, drilled his second three of the 4th quarter to put Raymond back on top 51-49 with 4:21 left to play. Morin was a little quiet for most of the game, but he is one of the better shooters in D-III and he hit a couple of big shots early in the 4th.

Then came a tough call for Bow. Paynter was driving hard on the break, and Froleiks planted himself at the free throw line to try and take a charge. It was a borderline play, but Froleiks (who looks and plays a lot like Nick Martinez of Londonderry) didn't get the call and was called for the block. He was not happy about it. Froleiks then came right back with a big play, scoring on a drive, plus the foul to put the Falcons up 53-51 with 3:40 left.

Richard answered right back for Raymond though, with a nice drive and finish coming from the right wing. Richard then came back on defense and made a nice block on the break. Faber then hit another big shot for Bow, this one from just outside the foul line to put them up 55-53. Both teams just kept hitting big shot after big shot (just like the Billy Joel song!). It made for some very exciting basketball down the stretch.

With 1:31 left in the game Bow led 57-54. Bow really did a nice job of picking up their defensive intensity late. They made it very tough on Raymond to get good looks, and as a result the Rams only scored 2 more points the rest of the way. Morin did get a couple of good looks from long range, but he air-balled both attempts. If either shot went in it would have been a tie game. Instead, they both missed, and Bow made their free throws at the end and got the win.

The bottom line though, is that without the 2 threes that Morin hit earlier in the 4th quarter Raymond wouldn't have even been in that game. He's a good shooter. But just like so many of his teammates this was the first real big game on a big state they've played in (the Rams didn't make the Class M tournament last year). Raymond will learn from this and be a better, more experienced team down the road.

Meanwhile, Bow has been there and done that. They've played in a lot of high pressure games. They beat Pelham last year in the Class I prelims, then nearly beat Pembroke in the quarterfinals. Every year they play against some of the top D-I teams in NH in the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament. Bow has a rotation of 6-7 players...and they're ALL seniors. hey return 4 starters from last year.

"Our experience helped, and we showed good poise late" said a content Bow coach Dave Michaud, who is in his 1st year at the helm (he's also point guard Erik Michaud's father). "We went to the hoop, they fouled us and we made our free throws. That was the difference down the stretch."


The Bottom Line
Bow, with their combination of size and strength inside, strong guard play and experience is as good as anybody in Division III boys basketball. They have 1 loss on the season so far, but both Michaud and Connor Hill were out with injuries that game.

That being said, Raymond was right there with them tonight. They had the lead numerous times in the 2nd half, and they had a couple chances to tie the game late. They were missing Everett and Lang was a non-factor. And they still nearly won this game. That is a good sign for the Rams, because most nights Lang is a good player, and Everett will be back in a couple weeks. Don't forget this is a Raymond team over the summer beat Campbell by 23, beat Greater Lawrence Tech and only lost to Trinity by 3. They'll be there at the end.

In D-III, it's Bow, Berlin, Mascoma, Conant and Raymond. Any one of those 5 teams could win it. Somersworth could also be in that discussion. Last Friday I saw Mascoma come back from down 15 to beat Conant in a thriller. This Friday night I see Bow go on the road and use their experience and size to beat Raymond. And in 2 weeks I'll be in Somersworth to see the Hilltoppers host Berlin. One thing's for sure, with 5-6 teams who can win it, this is definitely the most wide open the division has been in years.

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