Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Despite Injuries, Lebanon Hoops Teams Off to Strong Start

Yes it's true that the athletic programs in the southern part of NH get more hype and attention, but there's one school up north in particular that you have to be impressed with right now. The Lebanon High boys and girls basketball teams are at or near the top of the Division II standings. Both teams have played very tough early season schedules and both teams have been playing without key, making their play so far even more deserving of recognition.

I got a chance to see both teams play recently on film. I saw the Lebanon boys home game vs. Pembroke and the girls game at home vs. Windham. Here's what I thought about both games and how both teams look at this point in the season.

Lebanon Boys Basketball
Pembroke beat Lebanon in this game, but they had to come from behind to do it. With Pembroke everyone talks about Patrick Welch, Rene Maher and Matt Persons but in this game it was 6'5" senior forward Tyler Morrison who came up BIG, especially down the stretch. Morrison stepped outside and knocked down a number of three-pointers. Him and Welch both hit big shots late in the game, as the Spartans pulled out the come from behind victory 56-50.

Still, Lebanon played a great game. You have to keep in mind that they have been playing without senior big man Alexander Morrill (also a football star) who has been out all season thus far with an injury. Last season when these 2 teams played, Lebanon was able to go on the road and defeat Pembroke, in large part because Morrill had a huge game with about 15 points and 20 rebounds. You can bet the Spartans were glad he wasn't suited up this time!

"I broke my foot" said Morrill. "I broke my fifth metatarsal, it's called a Jones break. I want to come back, but the hospital is making me wait."

Even without Morrill in there Lebanon played well and came very close to winning against a Pembroke team that is a title contender in D-II. In this game 5'10" junior guard David Hampton, 6'2" senior forward Mark Davidson, 6'3" junior forward Matt Cowles, 5'11" senior guard Tyler Silver and 5'10" sophomore guard Nick Shepherd all played well for the Raiders.

Hampton plays AAU ball on the GS Raiders with many of the Pembroke players, he he also lit them up last year in the Lebanon win, so you know that Coach Alosa was going to be keying on him in this game. Pembroke played him tight and made it tough for him to get many good looks. He was still able to break free and hit some shots, but he didn't have a huge game scoring-wise. Instead he distributed the ball well, didn't force anything and got the team into their offense effectively against the intense pressure defense that Pembroke brought.

With PA gearing their defense towards slowing down Hampton, that opened up some room inside for the duo of Davidson and Cowles to operate. Both players did a great job of rebounding the basketball and converting shots inside off put-backs and post-ups.

Silver and Shepherd did a nice job as role players in the back court. They were both strong with the basketball, hit shots and competed hard on both ends of the floor.

After this game Lebanon went to Keene for their holiday tournament. They won that tourney, and beat a very good Conant team in the final.

Lebanon is a very good team, and once they get Morrill back in the lineup they'll be even better. Some people are calling it a 2 team race in D-II with those 2 teams being Portsmouth and Pembroke. Well I beg to differ. Anyone who says that clearly didn't see the Lebanon vs. Pembroke game! Lebanon led this game for nearly the entire way before Morrison and Welch caught fire from the outside late. Morrill dominated PA last year, and if he was playing in this game the Raiders would have likely beaten Pembroke. I would argue it's a 4 team race in D-II, with not only Portsmouth and Pembroke, but also Lebanon and Pelham as teams who are all legit title contenders.

Lebanon Girls Basketball
They graduated 3 starters and their best returning player (5'10" junior forward Trina Scheie) is out for the year with a torn ACL. Yet somehow the Lebanon girls are playing better basketball than anybody else in Division II so far this season.

Souhegan is the defending undefeated champs, but they lost their second game of the season to a young but talented Bedford team. Then Souhegan lost their star point guard Jane White to an ankle injury over the holiday break (it's uncertain right now when she'll return). Bedford then lost to Oyster River, who is only 2-2 so far. Bedford then also had their best player (6'1" forward McKenzie Brown) suffer an ankle injury and it's unknown when she'll be back.

The other 2 teams expected to be contenders in D-II this winter are Hollis-Brookline and Windham. Well guess what folks? Lebanon is not only undefeated so far in regular season play at 5-0, but they have already beaten both Windham AND Hollis. They beat Windham back on December 16 by a final score of 66-50 (that's the game I saw on film and will be analyzing in this article) and then they beat Hollis 49-40 in the Manchester Central Girls Holiday Tournament.

The only team that Lebanon has lost to so far is Manchester Memorial, but c'mon now there's no shame in that loss - Lebanon had to travel an hour and a half to play a Memorial team that was not only playing in their own back yard but they are a top 3 team in Division I - and Lebanon still only lost by 3, 49-46.

So how about that Windham game? Well, Windham is a very good basketball team, and they got off to a nice start by going up 8-4 early. The Jaguars were playing tough defense and moving the ball well on offense to work for good shots. But then Lebanon took control of the game, went up by about 10 points after 1 quarter of play and from that point on they were in control of the game and rolled to the 66-50 win.

5'9" senior guard/forward Colleen Taylor had an MVP type game in this one to lead the way for Lebanon. She was on fire shooting it from the outside, connecting on a number of three-pointers en route to scoring a game-high 23 points (18 in the 1st half. After she had hit a bunch of outside shots Windham had to extend their defense on her, and when that happened she drove right by them to the basket for 2. Taylor also made a very nice defensive play in the 2nd half, coming over on help defense and blocking a shot.

As good as Taylor was in this game, she got a lot of help from her teammates. Lebanon's trio of junior guards Emily Kehoe (18 points), Moriah Morton (16 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists) and Taylor Friedman all played well and they all hit shots from beyond the arc.

"When we shoot the ball well we are tough to beat" said Lebanon head coach Tim Kehoe. "Windham is a good defensive team so it showed promise for us. Without a true back to the basket threat we have to press hard and shoot well."

Morton played great defense on Windham's best player Kerry White. White is very skilled and had a decided size advantage, but Morton is tough, scrappy and one of the state's best defenders and limited the offense White was able to create. Kehoe is one of those players who plays the game with reckless abandon, constantly diving on the floor for loose balls and drawing charges. Like in other Lebanon games I've seen in the past, Kehoe slammed to the floor a number of times in this game but every time she just keeps getting back up and playing hard. Friedman handled the basketball and shot it well - all 3 guards can play the point, they're interchangeable between the 1, 2 and 3 positions which makes them tough to defend.

5'11" forward Heather King is one of the most improved players in the Class of 2014. She did a nice job in the Windham game of facing up from 15 feet and either hitting the shot or taking it to the rim and finishing inside. She fits in nicely with this team, and the injury to Scheie is allowing her to gain more minutes which is greatly helping her development as a player.

Sophomore guard Samantha MacDonald is the team's 6th man and while she defers to the 5 starters to do most of the scoring she's a tough player and it's clear that she would start for just about any other D-II team.

Windham really didn't play terrible in this game, it's just that Lebanon was REALLY good, hitting on all cylinders on both ends of the floor. They played suffocating defense, shutting down not only White inside, but also shutting down Windham's talented back court of Kelsey Schiebel and Clairee Putnam who were both very quiet offensively as well. Putnam picked up 2 fouls in the 1st half (the 2nd foul appeared to be a very questionable call where she drove to the rim, put up a shot it it looked like SHE was fouled, not the other way around). She had to sit for the rest of the half and never got into a groove after that. Bernadette Connors, Ashley Adamson, Madalina Jeans and Brianna Angelini all played well in supporting roles for Windham, but Lebanon was just too fast, too aggressive and too good!

So yes, right now Lebanon is playing better than anyone else in the division - even without Scheie. It's impressive stuff and you have to give Coach Kehoe and his team a lot of credit for that. The season is long from being over, but the Raiders look very tough.

And next year I would be VERY surprised if Lebanon lost a game. They'll have Scheie coming back healthy. Scheie, Morton, Kehoe and Friedman will all be seniors, while King and MacDonald will be juniors. Souhegan graduates White, Windham also graduates White, Hollis graduates their 4 best players and Bedford moves up to D-I. Yeah, I'll be shocked if Lebanon loses a game next year.

Ok, now back to this season!

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