Thursday, December 29, 2011

South Wins Gate City Bragging Rights

2011 Chick-fil-A Holiday Basketball Tournament Title Game: Nashua South 46 Nashua North 40

Ever since Nashua split into 2 different high schools the North vs. South rivalry has been one of the biggest rivalries in NH high school sports. This season the boys basketball teams for the 2 schools just happen to both be very good and they're both evenly matched as well, which only adds fuel to the fire. In our preseason rankings we had North ranked #5 and South at #6 in Division I.

On Thursday night at Nashua South the 2 squads met in the championship game of the Nashua-area holiday basketball tournament, which is sponsored by Chick-fil-A. South got off to a slow start, scoring just 2 points in the game's first 6 minutes. But then Anthony Muccioli (game-high 21 points) and the rest of his teammates heated up and they won it 46-40 in front of a packed gymnasium.

Muccioli caught fire late in the 1st quarter, score 10 of his 21 points in the game's opening stanza. He was hitting threes, mid-range jumpers and also scoring on drives to the rim.

"They were going in for me and then the team started to play better together and they started making shots" said Muccioli, who also had 5 rebounds and 3 steals in addition to his 21 points.

As good as Muccioli is, South is a very deep team that is much more than a one man show. In the 2nd quarter after Muccioli got hot shooting the ball junior forward Jack Preston (10 points) caught a pass in transition and slammed down a dunk which sent the crowd into a frenzy. The Purple Panthers also got strong play inside from senior forward Kevin Morrissey who was blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, finishing inside and making hustle plays. As a team South was out-hustling and out-working the Titans, as they were getting all of the loose balls and winning the rebounding battle as well. South went up 16-9 and then went into halftime up 26-14, despite the fact that they went down 8-2 early in the 1st quarter. The Dunham brothers, Michael and David were 2 players in particular who were also out-hustling everybody out there. They're both smart, fundamentally sound players who work hard on both ends of the floor.

Muccioli and Tim Preston both picked up 2 fouls in the 1st half, but stepping up in the back court was Cody Wyatt, Armond McRae and Yordy Tavarez.

Late in the 2nd quarter North point guard Ryan Gauthier picked up a technical foul and was forced to sit out for the entire 2nd half. They definitely missed his play making ability out there on the court, but head coach Steve Lane made a good move to try and teach his players some discipline, especially in a game that doesn't count in the standings.

After North senior wing player Anthony Farmer made a great block (his second of the game) on defense and than converted a layup on the other end, Muccioli again caught fire from the outside. South went into the 4th quarter with a comfortable 37-24 lead.

The 4th quarter got very intense and exciting though, as North made a comeback with their best player on the bench. They were down by 13 to start the 4th quarter, but with 1:54 left to play the Titans were able to cut the South lead to 41-38. They made their comeback by picking up the defensive intensity (Farmer, Jake Mellin and Javon Williams in particular played great defense down the stretch) and also with the scoring punch that Williams and Mike O'Connor were able to bring. Dezron Wilson also played well for the Titans, hustling for loose balls and handling the ball well vs. pressure.

"We took too many jump shots with the big lead" said Nashua South coach Nate Mazzerole. "It wasn't the prettiest game, but it was a great atmosphere and playing in games like this will help us in the future."

Mellin had a big blocked shot on a Muccioli layup attempt halfway through the game's final quarter. Muccioli was down on the floor in pain following the play, and it was definitely a scary moment for South fans. Muccioli is hands down one of the NHIAA's top players this season, and with him in the lineup South is a team that is a legit contender to make it to UNH come March so an injury to him would have been devastating. But fortunately he was able to return to the game just a couple minutes later.

"It was just a cramp in my calf" said Muccioli, a 5'10" senior point guard. "I was dehydrated so it just cramped up on me, I'm fine."

North continued to bring the pressure on defense as they're comeback bid continued in the game's last 2 minutes. But with Muccioli back in the game, along with his back court mates Tim Preston and Tavarez who are all very good ball handlers and moved the basketball well around the perimeter. Plus you had the smart, fundamentally sound Dunham brothers who also played tough defense and rebounded well and the Purple Panthers were able to hold on for the win.

Muccioli made a big drive and finish late to push the lead back up, splitting 2 defenders to get to the rim where he made an athletic finish. That big play followed by some free throws, and South won it 46-40.

Would the game have gone differently if Gauthier never picked up the technical? Probably. But on the other side of the coin it also probably would have been different if Tim Preston wasn't in foul trouble for much of the game, or if Muccioli didn't leave for a few minutes in the 4th quarter (which is when North made their run).

The bottom line is these are 2 good teams who should both get home playoff games and possibly make it to UNH for the Final Four. But South is more consistent, more disciplined and they play better team basketball. It's still early in the season, but they are the team that has a better shot at going to Durham.

Still, if forced right now to pick the 4 D-I teams that will make it their I would say: Merrimack, Trinity, Bishop Guertin and Manchester West.

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