Monday, February 20, 2012

Raymond Comeback Falls Short vs. Somersworth

Talk about a game of runs! Somersworth came out of the locker room at halftime hitting on all cylinders, going on a 12-0 run to begin the 2nd half to take a commanding 41-23 lead. The run was led by senior forward Matt Robbins, who had 8 of his team-high 16 points in the 3rd quarter.

Then Raymond came storming back. Led by Joe Morin (game-high 21 points), Jordon Richard (7 of his 9 points came in 3rd quarter) and Mark Wysocki (came up with some key offensive rebounds) the Rams went on a 29-13 run to cut the Somersworth lead to 56-54 with 3:00 left in the 4th quarter.

The Hilltoppers were able to hang on from there, as Raymond had 3 big turnovers late. That, plus Belgian-transfer Jeremy Dognies (13 points) made a couple of strong drives to the rim and finishes in traffic late. The result was a 66-60 win for Somersworth in an exciting, fast-paced battle in Division III boys basketball.

Nice Comeback Bid by Raymond
You really have to give credit to Raymond for battling back in this game. When Somersworth went up 41-23 in the 3rd quarter it looked like the game was over. Robbins was scoring at will, Raymond was rushing their shots and turning the ball over too much and the Hilltoppers were getting easy baskets on the break and off offensive rebounds. They were running the Rams out of the gym. It was a close, back-and-forth game the entire 1st half, but Somersworth had just broke it wide open in the 3rd quarter.

"We built that lead by playing tough defense and getting out on the break" said Somersworth head coach Lorne Lucas. "But then we relaxed and they started hitting shots."

They also built the lead by getting a number of offensive rebounds. Perhaps the turning point in the game was on the last play of the 1st half when junior wing player Jon Cronshaw (8 points) grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a shot from in close with just 2 seconds left in the 1st half. That led to the big run Somersworth made to begin the 3rd quarter.

Raymond is a run-and-gun kind of team. They're guard-oriented and they like to get up and down the floor, use their speed and shoot the long ball. In other words, they're the kind of team that is capable of coming back from down 18 points in the 2nd half.

Richard had 7 big points in the 3rd, and could have had 11 but he missed 4 free throws. The Rams also picked up their defensive intensity and started to force some turnovers. This was a complete 180 compared to the defense Raymond was plying for the first 4 minutes of the 3rd quarter, when Somersworth was getting bucket after bucket, moving the ball around with ease and getting points WAY too easily.

Morin his his third three pointer of the game, and just like that the Hilltoppers lead was down to 52-43 heading to the 4th quarter. The Rams ended the 3rd on an 18-9 run.

"They hit some tough shots" said Coach Lucas. "Morin can really shoot it, and so can their other guys."

Exciting Finish in the 4th
Raymond kept the momentum rolling in the 4th quarter. Once again they were able to get out on the break, and forward Tom Daigle (the only forward Raymond has) scored on a layup to cut the Somersworth lead to 53-49 with 5:00 left to play.

Morin then hit a pull-up jumper from the left elbow with a hand right in his face. On the next trip down the floor Wysocki crashed the offensive glass, grabbing an offensive rebound and in mid-air tipping it into the basket - while also drawing a foul! He made the free throw, cutting the Hilltoppers lead to 56-54. You could really feel the intensity in the gym. It was the last game of the regular season for both squads, but it certainly had the feel of a tournament game.

Fortunately for the defending D-III champs from Somersworth they were able to hold on from there. That's when Dognies made a couple of big drives to the basket and finishes, and Raymond had 3 costly turnovers late. After the second bucket by Dognies the Hilltoppers went up 61-54 with 1:30 left.

Raymond wasn't ready to give up just yet, though. Wysocki hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 61-57 with 1:20 left. Then after a couple free throws by Morin the lead was back down to 3, at 63-60 with 1:00 to go. It wasn't over yet!

But it wasn't meant to be. Raymond turned it over again, and Somersworth added 3 more FT's for the 66-60 final. It was a hard fought game between 2 of the top teams in D-III.

Hilltoppers Lived at the Line
Free throws played a big role in this game. Both teams shot a similar percentage from the charity stripe, however Somersworth got to the line more than twice as many times as Raymond did. The Hilltoppers went 22/30 from the line, while Raymond was 9/14. Why was there such a big difference, you ask? Well it's pretty simple really. Raymond is a jump shooting team, jump shooting teams typically don't get to the foul line as much. Somersworth meanwhile is not a jump shooting team. Their top guards are Dognies, Josh Jacques (7 points) and Drew Francoeur (9 points) and none of those guys want to shoot it from the outside. All 3 of them are slashers who look to attack the rim off the dribble. The Hilltoppers only made 1 three on the game, and that was by Robbins, who got most of his points in the paint. The one three he did have was a big one though, as it came late in Somersworth's big 3rd quarter run.

"I have the green light to shoot the three" said the 6'4" Robbins, who was one of the 4 Somersworth players honored before the game on senior night (the others were Dognies, Jacques and hustling backup guard Zach Hill). But I knew that against these guys I had a size advantage so my coach kept telling me to stay in the paint."

It should also be noted that Raymond played this game without one of their better players, 6'1" wing player Ben Sytulek. His younger brother did a nice job filling in for him with 5 points, but this may have been a different game if Ben was healthy. Raymond just recently got Morin back from an injury, as their star shooting guard was out for a few weeks, and was missing in action when the team lost to Bow and to Epping.

European Connections at Somersworth
Dognies is a great story. He is a foreign exchange student from Belgium, so obviously he had never played with any of the Somersworth kids before. Yet he has fit right in with the team, and has become a player that Coach Lucas very rarely takes off the floor. Dognies is strong with the ball, does a nice job of running the offense, goes to the basket hard and for a kid who's only 5'11" he plays much bigger as he is able to go inside and finish against the opposing bigs.

"I didn't know any English when I first came over here, so it was kind of scary at first" said Dognies, who also played on the Somersworth football team this past fall even though he had never played organized football before. "It's a lot different than Belgium here. But I like the kids on the team, and I like the coach, even though he;s tough on us sometimes. I've always been a smaller player so I've just learned to not be afraid to drive into the paint."

Dognkes also played tough defense in this game, especially on one play in the 1st half when he picked the pocket of Richard just over half court and took it in for an easy layup.

"He's a very unselfish player" said Lucas, talking about his Belgian point guard. "I would actually like to see him be more aggressive going to the basket."

This is the second time in as many years that Somersworth has had a foreign exchange student star athlete. Last winter their boys hockey team went undefeated and won the Division III state title. Their top line was an absolute scoring machine, and leading the way was Petter Bulling, a transfer student from Sweden (you may have heard they play pretty good hockey over there!). And now this winter Dognies joins the basketball team and is a potential all-state player.

Playoff Picture
This was the last game of the regular season for both of these teams. Somersworth ends the season with a 14-4 record, and they go into the playoffs having won 12 of their last 13 games. They will be the #5 seed in the D-III playoffs. Campbell and Hopkinton are both 14-3 with 1 game left to play. Campbell's last game though is against Farmington (6-11) and it would be a HUGE upset if Campbell lost that game. Hopkinton has to play Conant on Wednesday night in their season finale, but even if they lose that game and finish tied with Somersworth at 14-4, Hopkinton will get the #4 seed because they beat the Hilltoppers head to head. That would setup a VERY interesting quarterfinal game though, because even though Hopkinton beat Somersworth during the season it was way back in December. Last week the Hawks lost to Raymond - the same Raymond team that Somersworth beat tonight. So even though Hopkinton would be the higher seeded team, Somersworth is probably playing better basketball right now. However the Hawks have a chance to prove me wrong if they can go to Conant on Wednesday night and beat the mighty Orioles (yes, the NH Notebook WILL be covering that game too).

As for Raymond, they finish with a 10-8 record. Some may have picked them to finish with the better record, but first off they had a schedule. The rams had to play Somersworth, Campbell, Hopkinton and prospect Mountain TWICE EACH. Secondly they have been hurt by the injuries to Morin and Sytulek. Considering the schedule and the injuries, a 10-8 record isn't that bad. Even if they got a win over Somersworth tonight, they would still finish no higher than 9th place, as Mascoma and Stevens are tied right now for 7th place at 12-6.

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