Saturday, February 19, 2011

Milford Boys Handle Spirou-less Pelham

Well it was close for awhile. But without potential D-II Player of the Year Steve Spirou, Pelham just didn't have size or the firepower to stay with a Milford team that is not only the best team in D-II but in the entire state.

Spirou was out with an ankle injury, Mike O'Loughlin went off for 25 points and the Milford High boys basketball team defeated Pelham 66-40 on Friday night in Milford. The Spartans are now 16-0 on the season.

Obviously if a team is missing their best player, who is also the state's leading scorer and one of the best players in NH it will make a huge difference. Spirou scores nearly half of his team's points on a nightly basis. He's also 6'4", and without him in there Pelham had nobody taller than 6'1". As a result Milford was able to dominate the boards and get a number of inside points off of drive-and-dish plays to their bigs Kyle Nelson and Logan Barlow.

Give Pelham credit for the way they played early on, though. Even without Spirou in there they scrapped, clawed and battled hard against the mighty Milford Spartans. Junior guard Brett Bailey made an and-1 15 foot jump shot, then junior guard Dean Joyce hit a three-pointer and Pelham had an early lead 9-8. Milford only lead 17-14 after 1 quarter of play, and with a couple minutes left in the 1st half they were only up 30-24. It was a hard fought, physical game so far, with both teams pushing the basketball at every opportunity and taking quick shots. Junior forward Brian Finney also made a nice hustle play for the Pythons by diving out of bounds for a loose ball.

"We were playing city basketball" said Milford head coach Dan Murray. "I keep telling our team, if we get beat this year it's because of this one pass and shoot stuff. When we work the ball and pass it around 3 or 4 times we're very tough to defend."

There was one possession in the 1st half however when Milford only made 1 pass and the result was a good one. It was a set play out of a timeout where Spartans senior point guard Mike Mitchell dribbled right and then lobbed the ball up for Nelson, who then slammed it down with both hands for the alley-oop. As they broke the huddle out of the timeout there was even a Milford parent who called the play. He told me that Nelson was going to get a dunk the next time the Spartans had the ball. And sure enough he did.

Pelham junior point guard Derek Defranzo and the Vaiknoras brothers, Jake and Jesse also helped to keep the Pythons in it. Defranzo battled Mitchell all game, as both players really got after it in a match-up of quick and talented 5'7" point guards.

17-0 Run was the Difference
Like I said, late in the 2nd quarter Pelham was right in the game, only down 30-24. Then Milford went on a 17-0 run, and in a matter of minutes they were now up 47-24. Turnovers really hurt Pelham, and for that you really have to give credit to the defense of Milford. They played some swarming, suffocating defense that trapped the Pelham guards and prevented them from getting any good looks at the basket. Jared Lakin came off the bench and made a nice drive-and-dish play to Barlow late in the 2nd quarter, and Barlow also made a nice steal and coast-to-coast play in the 2nd quarter as well. Those plays seemed to energize the Spartans. They carried that momentum right over into the 2nd half.

"We started to play a lot less selfish and buckled down on defense" said O'Loughlin, who was playing in front of one of his future college coaches from Trinity College. "Then they went 6 straight minutes without scoring."

In the 3rd, Nelson hit a three and then came back on defense and blocked a shot about 10 seconds later. When he's hitting the outside shot in addition to dominating the paint it makes him that much better of a player. Nelson had 7 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in this game.

Then O'Loughlin got out on the break and got a slam dunk of his own, throwing it down with one hand. He then got a technical foul for hanging on the rim, which was a very bad call. There were other players right below him, so if he had come down right away he could have fallen on them or kicked them in the back of the head or something by accident. He had to hang up there for an extra second or 2 for the safety of the kids. And yet he got t'd up for it. Bad call.

Milford's defense continued to give Pelham problems. It's bad enough when your best player who scores 25 a game is out, but it's even tougher to score when you're opponent is playing such terrific defense. As the lead started to get bigger Milford turned to their bench. And they didn't lose much, as this is a deep and talented squad. Lakin, Richie Moore, Jovi Philbrick and Dan Desmairas all played well. Desmairas made a nice put-back at the buzzer to end the 3rd quarter. It was 56-31 Milford after 3, and the 4th quarter was elementary.

"We didn't do anything well" said Pelham first-year head coach Matt Regan. "We didn't shoot, we didn't rebound, I was bad too."

Basketball Game or a Wrestling Match?
This was a VERY physical game, especially in the 1st half. Players were hitting the floor, lots of contact, often times it seemed more like a wrestling match than a basketball game. The officials were letting too much of it go. There were a number of plays where there was a LOT of contact but no call. You have to be careful for the safety of the kids here.

"They weren't as phased by the physical play as we were" said Coach Regan. "They're a senior laden team, they've been through the wars already. We haven't, and we a little rattled by it tonight."

The Bottom Line
I said it way back in the summertime and I'll say it again. Milford is the best team in the state regardless of division. They will likely run the table en route to a second straight championship and go down as one of the best Division II (Class I) teams in recent memory. That being said, they are beatable. Oyster River came THIS close to beating them a couple weeks back. Portsmouth and Pembroke both have the talent and coaching to give them a serious run for their money in the tournament. Pelham could have a shot at them with Spirou in there, and Souhegan has given them all they could handle all 3 times they've squared off.

As for Pelham, they're a tough team and with Spirou in there they're a top 4 team in D-II. They finish the regular season off with Windham and Hollis-Brookline. With those being 2 of the weaker teams in the division I would expect Spirou to sit out those games as well to not risk it. But he should be fine in time for the playoffs.

"He's not playing until he's 100%" said Regan.

With Spirou out of the lineup other guys were forced into bigger roles, and that will only make them better once he does return.

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