Thursday, February 24, 2011

Central Boys Over Salem in Defensive Showdown

Salem and Manchester Central are the state's 2 best defensive teams in NH boys high school basketball. And given the subject of my article from the other day it is only fitting that the 2 squads square off this evening.

It was a close, back-and-forth slug-fest between not only the 2 best defensive teams in the state but also 2 teams with legit chances at a top 4 seed in the boys Division I tournament. In the end however, Central made more plays down the stretch, and they won it 47-40 on Thursday night at the Simon Gymnasium in Manchester.

Game Could Have Gone Either Way
Some may look at the final score of this one and think that Central won it handily. But that couldn't be farther from the truth. This was actually only a 1 possession game for virtually the entire contest, and Salem even led for the majority of the 1st half.

"We feel like we can compete with anybody" said Salem first-year head coach Rob McLaughlin. "We've beaten some good teams, and in our losses we've been right there in the game."

These were clearly 2 evenly matched basketball teams, and they both have a very good chance at making it to UNH in a few weeks.

"I don't care what seed we are in the playoffs" said Manchester Central head coach Doc Wheeler. "I just want us to be playing well going into the tournament. We pose some great physical challenges to teams."

Looked Like Blue Devils Were in Control Most of the Way
Sharpshooter Jeff Meisser hit a three-pointer right off the bat early on. Salem was all over the boards, thanks to senior forwards Joe Gallant (12 rebounds) and Mike Lorenz (10 rebounds). This game's anticipated match-up of Gallant vs. John Wickey of Central was all Gallant in the 1st half. Gallant was the better player on both ends of the floor, and outscored Wickey 12 - 0 over the 1st 2 quarters of play.

But having said all of that, this game was all tied up after 1 (10-10), and Salem only led by 2 at halftime (24-22). Why is that? Well as good as Gallant was in the 1st half (and he was VERY good), he didn't get much offensive support. And for Central, senior two-guard Audie Melendez helped to keep the Little Green in it by playing some excellent basketball on both ends of the court. He had 9 1st half points, all coming from beyond the arc. Melendez didn't force anything, and played solid defense as well. One of the threes he hit was a very difficult shot, as he shot the basketball over the out-stretched arm of Lorenz (7-8 inches taller than Melendez) who was closing out on him.

So even though it seemed like Salem was in control of the game, they actually led by just 2 at the half.

Team Effort for Central in 2nd Half
Wickey (who was feeling under the weather which could explain his quiet 1st half) started to play much better in the 2nd. He scored all of his team-high 11 points in the 2nd half. He also got plenty of help, though. Melendez continued to play well, with a nice drive-and-dish play to Wickey for a 3rd quarter layup which gave the Little Green a 34-32 lead.

Junior Brown also started to really come alive. He made a number of big rebounds, defensive plays and put-backs down the stretch. The 6'3" forward had a BIG tip-in early in the 4th quarter which put Central up 40-33 (their largest lead of the game) and force Coach McLaughlin to call a timeout. Then Brown once again came up big late, grabbing an offensive board and laying it in to put Coach Wheeler's squad up 45-40 with just 1:40 left. When he plays hard and plays disciplined he can be a tough player to stop. In the 2nd half at least, brown was both of those and it was a huge reason why Central won this basketball game.

You also have to give credit to Troy Pelletier, an athletic 6'1" sophomore who came off the bench and made some big plays on both offense and defense. In the span of about a minute in the 4th quarter he drilled a baseline jump shot, then on defense he blocked the shot of Meisser (who was definitely quiet in this game with just 6 points). And while Dylan Lafond was quiet offensively for Central, he really played some nice defense, especially late in the game. Lafond stuck to Salem point guard Jonny Klecan like glue (except for 1 play where Klecan hit a game-tying three-pointer). It was fun to watch the 2 small yet extremely tough, hard nosed defenders going at it.

Gallant was solid in the 2nd half as well, but Wickey stepped up to neutralize him. And Central just had more weapons, more kids making plays late instead of just 1 or 2 guys. Gabe LaCount had another quiet game for the Little Green, but he still chipped in with a respectable 10 points, which gave central 3 players in double figures (Melendez had 11 as did Wickey).

Gallant meanwhile had a game-high 21 points to go with 12 rebounds in defeat.

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