You couldn't ask for a much better game on opening night. Portsmouth and Pembroke are the 2 favorites in Division II boys basketball this season, and on Friday night in Pembroke they showed why. It was only the first game of the season, but both of these teams are in mid-season form, and they really put on a show out there.
It was a thriller that went down to the wire, with Portsmouth (fresh off a D-III title in football) winning it 57-56. They were playing on the road and without one of their better players in senior wing Kyle DiCesare (high ankle sprain), yet they still got the job done. Senior guard Kamahl Walker had a team-high 18 points for Portsmouth. He had a very good game, but it was definitely a team effort for the Clippers as other guys had to step up with Walker in foul trouble.
"It was a good win" said Portsmouth head coach Jim Mulvey. "Our bigs kids - Alex, Gregg and Charlie did really well, the did a good job on the boards. And Ben Landry and Jack Mackey came off the bench and gave us good minutes when Kamahl was in foul trouble."
Pembroke had a couple chances late in the game to tie or take the lead. Junior point guard Rene Maher made a great move to get to the rim and made an and-1 finish, which cut the Portsmouth lead to 56-54 with 35 seconds left. Then Clippers senior guard Billy Lane missed the front end of a 1 and 1, and PA got the ball back.
There was plenty of time left, and Pembroke could tie it up with a 2 or take the lead with a 3. And they couldn't ask for a better look at the basket, and sophomore sensation ran off a pick and was able to get open at the top of the key. Welch had been on fire shooting the basketball in this game, scoring 25 points and hitting 7 three-pointers. But he front-rimmed the shot, and Portsmouth got the rebound.
Clippers senior forward Charlie Duprey made 1 out of 2 at the foul line, making it 57-56 Portsmouth with just 4.3 seconds left. PA had one last chance, and with shooters like Welch, Maher (18 points) and Matt Persons the game was far from over. But then Maher caught the inbounds pass underneath the basket and laid it in for 2 instead of going for a 3. Time expired, and Portsmouth won it 57-56.
Portsmouth played a great game and they deserved the win. They are a very good defensive team that is well-coached and they play smart, fundamentally sound, TEAM basketball.
Pembroke was up 26-25 at halftime, but Portsmouth went on a 19-7 run in the 3rd quarter, taking a 44-33 lead late in the quarter (their largest lead of the game). Walker sliced through the defense and made a nice finish inside. Tsougranis did a nice job of crashing the boards and working hard. Then Walker and Lane both made some explosive drives to the basket and tough finishes inside. The duo of Walker and Lane makes for a VERY quick back court - these guys are able to kick it into an extra gear and just play the game at a faster pace than most. Then Portmsouth has nice balance with the steady play of Tsougranis, Alx Rigazio and Duprey, who were active on the boards, getting second chance points on offense and limiting PA to 1 shot on defense.
Portsmouth maintained a lead of around 8 or 109 points for the rest of the 3rd quarter and the first few minutes of the 4th. Rigazio came up with a couple big buckets inside in the 4th quarter and Walker made another nice drive and finish for 2.
Welch kept shooting the lights out though, keeping the Spartans in the game. You simply cannot leave him open or he will make you pay. If he has the slightest amount of space to see the rim and get the shot off he'll make it. He's very quick and like Maher he also has a very nice crossover dribble which allows both players to get by their man off the dribble. Welch drilled a couple more threes in the 4th quarter, and 6'5" senior forward Tyler Morrison converted inside, followed by a clutch basket in the paint by Duprey for Portsmouth. It was certainly an exciting finish to the game, with both squads laying it all out on the line.
Pembroke made a nice run to come back in the game, as they trailed 44-33 late in the 3rd and they were down 50-40 with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter. But they came back and had a couple chances to tie or win the game late. It was a great game, but the 19-7 run by Portsmouth in the 3rd quarter was the difference.
I would be VERY surprised if these same 2 teams don't end up meeting each other in the D-II title game come March.