Sunday, February 6, 2011

North Boys Over Spaulding in OT Thriller

After the BG/Pinkerton girls game I headed across town to Nashua North for game 2 of my 3 game journey on Saturday. The Titans (5-4 going in) were hosting Spaulding (7-3 going in) in a game where it was anybody's guess who would come out on top. While Spaulding did have a slightly better record, they were playing on the road and also playing without starting forward Dominic Paradis, who has been out for the last 2 weeks with mono.

It ended up being a very entertaining, high scoring, competitive basketball game between 2 squads who hope to get a home playoff game. Spaulding made a late comeback to force overtime. But they were shorthanded 2 players (reserve guard PJ Juneau is also out with an injured groin), and North more left in the tank as they picked up a crucial 74-68 win on Saturday afternoon in Nashua.

One of the More Exciting Finishes to a Game All Season
The entire 2nd half and overtime of this game made for one of the more entertaining games I have seen all year. North led 37-31 at the half, but Spaulding came of the locker room fired up with a couple of quick baskets to cut the lead to 2. Red Raiders senior guard Brian Cronin, who had a game-high 24 points, converted back-to-back layups. Late in the 2nd quarter North was actually up 37-27 (their largest lead), so Spaulding was on an 8-0 run. Cronin is known more as a shooter, but here he was showing the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He's going to be a tough player to leave off the all-state ballots at the end of the year.

Junior guard Javon Williams (team-high 23 points) then hit a three-pointer, followed by a shot inside off a nice pass by junior forward Mike O'Connor. Junior guard/forward Anthony Farmer then converted a shot inside. So North answered back with a 9-2 run, and they took their largest lead of the 2nd half, 46-37. It looked like the Titans were in control of the game.

But Spaulding just kept fighting back. Williams was doing a nice job of pressuring Spaulding point guard Justin Slattery defensively. But Slattery was strong with the basketball. He was able to handle the pressure, and found teammate Connor Noe (11 points) cutting to the basket for 2.

"Just in a very consistent player for us" said Spaulding head coach Tim Cronin. "He just always does well for us."

The teams then started to go back-and-forth, with many players on both sides stepping up and making big shots and big plays. Cronin hit a three for Spaulding (his fourth of the game) but then junior guard Liam Burke (14 points) came right back and drilled a three of his own for North. Parker Jameson was playing solid defense for the Titans. Then came a big time play by North. Junior forward Jake Mellin grabbed a defensive rebound, immediately looked up the floor and threw a terrific baseball pass to teammate Adam Fay. Fay caught the ball around the right elbow on the other side of the court, setting up a 2-on-1 break. Fay immediately made a nice bounce pass to a cutting Parker Jamerson for the easy layup. Great play, and great teamwork by the Titans.

"That play was huge for us" said Nashua North head coach Andy Otocka. "Jake's main sport is baseball, and he's a pitcher. So I'm not surprised he made such a great pass."

North led 53-46 after 3 quarters. Once again though, Spaulding just kept battling back. With Williams and fellow junior guard (and cousin) Ryan Gauthier both on the bench at the same time, North started to have difficulty with the Red Raider's defensive pressure. Spaulding got steals on back-to-back plays, resulting in easy layups on the other end for Slattery and Noe. The North lead was now just 2, 58-56 with 4:07 left in regulation.

Slattery was then hit on the arm while attempting a jumper from 18 but no call was was made. Then North came back down, and Farmer (20 points and 9 rebounds, while having to guard Cronin all game) hit a foul line jumper. So instead of the game being all tied up at 58-58, North increased their lead to 60-56. It was pretty obvious that Slattery got hit, too.

Williams kept the momentum on the Titans sideline, as he hit a nice pull-up jumper from 15 feet away on the right wing. With 2 minutes to play it was North 62 Spaulding 56. That's how the score would remain until their was just 1:18 left. That's when Red Raiders senior guard Taylor Guilian drilled a three-pointer from the left corner to make it 62-59. Spaulding simply refused to give up. It was the first and only points Guilian would score all game - he picked a pretty good time to do it.

"I thought we were resilient" said Coach Cronin. "We are down 2 players and still battled back."

North was able to get the ball back still only trailing by 3, 62-59 with about 40 seconds left in the 4th quarter. That's when Spaulding senior forward Ian Christie hit a BIG three of his own to tie the game up at 62-62.

"It is part of our offense that Ian pops out like that after a screen" explained Coach Cronin.

North got the ball back with a chance to hold for the last shot and win it. Noe made a great hustle play to tip a pass away, go hard after the loose ball and dive out of bounds to try and save it. The Titans retained possession though, and Gauthier tried to go isolation for the score. He got a look at the rim from 15 feet away on a turnaround jumper. But the shot was no good, and the ball went back over to Spaulding. They had a chance to win it with 4.1 seconds left. Cronin heaved up a desperation shot from 3/4 court. The shot was no good and we were headed to overtime.

Titans Had More Gas Left in Tank, Made More Plays in

Noe made a couple of free throws to put Spaulding on top 64-62. He actually missed the second free throw, but he was given a third attempt after a lane violation was called on North. In a close game like this plays like that can make all the difference. As it turns out North ended up winning this thing by 6 so it didn't matter. But initially it seemed like the type of play that could decide a game.

With North now trailing by 2, Farmer then hit a BIG three to put the Titans back on top 65-64.

"The three that Anthony hit was big for us" said Coach Otocka. "He is our most consistent player. He never complains about anything, he just goes out there and does his job."

Cronin (the player Brian, not the coach Tim) then hit a pair of free throws to put Spaulding back on top 66-65. It is certainly worth noting that Cronin has now made 20 consecutive foul shots, dating back to the Red Raider's game vs. Manchester Memorial 2 weeks ago.

O'Connor then came through with his first and only points of the game, hitting a foul line jumper. Back and forth we went, as North took the lead right back again, 67-66. This time however, they held onto it...for good.

"1 through 9 this was a team effort for us today" said Otocka. "O'Connor, Mellin, Burke. They all played well."

North then came up with a steal, and Farmer laid it in on the other end to make it 69-66 Titans with 1:13 left in overtime. Gauthier then made a strong drive to the basket, and and-1 finish. That made it 72-66 North with under a minute left. They ended up winning it 74-68.

"This was a big win for us" said Otocka. "This was the first time we beat a team above us in the standings."

Spaulding started out the season 5-1, but since then they have lost 2 of their last 3 and 3 of their last 5. Yes they have played some tougher competition of late, and that is definitely part of it. But this slump also coincides with the 2 weeks that Paradis has been out of the lineup. Paradis is a 6'4" sophomore forward, and other than Cronin he is the most talented scorer on the team.

"He will be out for at least another week" lamented Coach Cronin. "We have had 3 different guys on the the team come down with mono already this season."

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