Kamahl Walker transferred to Portsmouth High School from Worcester over the summer. Head boys basketball coach Jim Mulvey is glad that he did. Walker scored a game-high 19 points, 2 steals. And oh by the way, he also hit the game-winning three-pointer with 15 seconds left after Souhegan had taken a 31-30 lead.
Walker had a big game, and senior forward Riley McCarthy was very good defensively and on the boards. In a very low scoring game, dominated by good defense in poor shooting, #3 seed Portsmouth defeated #10 seed Souhegan 35-31 in the Division II boys basketball semi-finals on Wednesday night at UNH.
The Shot Heard Round Lundholm
A free throw by Souhegan senior guard Seth Cordts (Cordts had a tough 1st half but was very good in the 2nd) gave the Sabers a 31-30 lead with 2:05 left in the game. That's the way it would stay until 30 seconds were left, as Kyle DiCesare from Portsmouth and Souhegan's Cordts and Shaun McKenna all missed the front end of 1-and-1's.
So Portsmouth had the ball, down 31-30 with 30 seconds left. Now of course in this situation if you're the Clippers you want to run the clock down, try to get a shot inside (higher % shot than a 3), and not leave your opponent any time to score.
Well, Portsmouth shot a 3. And they took the shot with 15 seconds still on the clock so that Souhegan could still have a shot to tie/win it at the end. Yet they STILL won the basketball game.
Walker dribbled the ball on the perimeter, stopped a couple feet behind the three-point line, creating just enough space to get the shot off. he then fired the shot away, nothing but net.
"We were just looking for a good look there" said Coach Mulvey. "We knew it would either be Kamahl or Kyle (DiCesare) taking the shot. We were having so much trouble scoring all game, we just wanted to take the first available shot."
It wasn't over yet though. Souhegan called timeout, and had the ball down 33-31 with 8.4 seconds still left. Again, the question comes up, do you go for a 2 or a 3? A 2 would tie it and force overtime, a 3 would win it. Right off the inbounds pass, Sabers sophomore point guard Brandon Len was left open from the top of the key. He took the shot from 3. It nearly fell for him, but it was no good. Walker added 2 more foul shots at the end for the 35-31 final. Portsmouth wins it.
"It wasn't necessarily about getting a 2 or a 3 there" said Souhegan head coach Mike Heaney. "But if we took a 3 I would hope it would be either Brandon or Seth (Cordts). Brandon's a good shooter and got a good look. It just didn't fall."
Souhegan Had Their Chances
Tough loss for the Sabers. Not only did they get beat on a three with only 15 seconds left, but they missed the front end of those two 1-and-1's. On the game, Souhegan shot just 6/14 (43%) from the charity stripe. They also missed a number of good looks inside the paint. If they make just a few more of those shots they win this game.
"They're kids, they're gonna miss shots" lamented coach Mike Heaney. "I thought we moved the ball beautifully, we got good looks. They just didn't go down."
Clearly, this was a VERY low scoring basketball game. It was only 18-14 Portsmouth at halftime!
"They always do a nice job of switching up their defense between zone and man" said Heaney.
In the 2nd quarter especially, the confusing match-up zone that Portsmouth is known for was really giving Souhegan a hard time. Portsmouth was also having trouble scoring the basketball, resulting in a 2nd quarter where both teams scored just 6 points. DiCesare was really having a cold night so far shooting the basketball, going 0/8 from the floor in the 1st half.
"They're a very physical team" said Coach Mulvey. "And the refs were letting it go, which posed some problems for us. Kyle had a tough 1st half, but he was still out there playing tough defense, and hit a big three for us in the 2nd half."
Good Point Guard Match-Up
Walker had a great game, not only hitting the game-winner but also hitting clutch free throws late. He also showed some tremendous explosiveness in the open court with the basketball in his hands.
All game he was matched up with Len, the Souhegan point guard. It was a fun match-up to watch, as both players really gave it everything they had out there. I was impressed with the way Len battled, scrapped and clawed on the defensive end, going for steals and hustling after loose balls. Portsmouth took a 29-22 lead with 5:29 left in the 4th (their largest lead). Just when it looked like the Clippers were going to put it away, Len made play after play (along with Cordts) to keep them in it.
Both of these players will be back for their respective teams next year. Look for the 2 of them, along with Rene Maher of Pembroke and Derek Defranzo of Pelham to be the best point guards in D-II next year.
Give Souhegan Credit
Just to get this far is impressive stuff for the Sabers. They had to go on the road and beat Lebanon in the first round and then Pembroke in the quarterfinals. That's 2 pretty darn good teams.
"I'm usually here watching these games" said Heaney. "We came within 1 possession of a team that won the title 2 years ago and routinely makes it this far. I couldn't be more proud of our kids."
Portsmouth Role Players Not to be Forgotten
They often get overlooked with Walker and DiCesare getting most of the hype. But McCarthy, Gregg Tsougranis and Charlie Duprey all played well in supporting roles for the Clippers. McCarthy was terrific on the boards (9 rebounds), all 3 of these guys were very good defensively, and Tsougranis continues to eb the "glue guy" that keeps this team together.