By Tuesday and Friday
Junior Brown hit 4 big free throws in the last 16 seconds of the game to help Central defeat Memorial 41 to 38. Central now moves on to play Trinity in the semi finals at UNH on Monday at 7:30 pm.
You know it's going to be a special evening when you are greeted by long lines to get into Central's Simon Gym 45 minutes before tap off. As soon as you entered the historic gym there was a buzz in the air that told you that you were in the perfect place for high school playoff basketball. Both student body sections were bursting at the seams. Queen City basketball luminaries filled the Simon Gym. A perfect stage for a big high school playoff game.
Memorial seized the moment of the big stage early. Memorial senior Mike Torres was active offensively as he slashed to the hoop early and often. He was fouled once and finished 2 drives and had 5 points in the first period. Memorial started in zone and this gave Central problems as they settled for outside shots that were finding Simon metal. Memorial held Central scoreless for the first 4 minutes of the game. The Crusaders looked like they were playing at home while Central had the road gym jitters. A Junior Brown 3 put Central on the board. Memorial had a 9 - 3 lead in the waning seconds of the 1st period when Junior Brown hit another 3 to cut the Memorial lead to 9 - 6 at the conclusion of the 1st period.
Memorial opened up their offense in the 2nd period. 7 different players scored 17 points for the Crusaders in this period. Memorial also switched from a zone defense to a man to man. Memorial's athleticism and length disrupted Central's offensive sets. Central was jittery with the ball. There was another factor sending jitters to Central's fans. It was becoming apparent an injury Gabe LaCount suffered in the first period was now lingering into the 2nd period. LaCount fell hard to the floor and came and sat on the Central bench. As the game wore on it became evident LaCount would not return. Sophomore Mike Plentzas filled in for LaCount. He hit a 3 in the 2nd period to keep Central close, but the scoring depth of Memorial helped give the Crusaders a 26 to 18 halftime lead. Christian Artiga was held scoreless in the first half.
I'm sure Doc gave the little Green an earful about being out hustled by the Crusaders in the first half. I'm sure Doc gave his troops an earful about playing better defense in the 2nd half. I'm sure Doc told his players to execute their offense better in the 2nd half. I'm sure of all this because Central did all 3 of these aforementioned aspects much better in the 2nd half.
Central became more athletic and quicker in the 3rd period. They started clamping down defensively on the Crusaders and held them to 6 points in the 3rd period. A Junior Brown swirl-lee-doo running reverse layup brought Central within 1 at 30 - 29 with 2:03 left in the 3rd period. It was the closest Central had been in a long time. Plentzas scored a big 6 points for Central in this period on a 3, a 2 and a FT. Memorial was up 32 to 31 heading into the 4th period and you could feel Central coming on.
The teams traded baskets at the start of the 4th period. Artiga nailed a 15 footer with 4;30 left in the game to give Central their FIRST LEAD OF THE GAME at 35 to 34. Central seemed rejuvenated with their first lead and really made things tough for Memorial by playing stifling defense. Memorial was taking 30 to 45 seconds off the clock on their next 2 possessions and came up with nothing. Troy Pelletier hit a big 15 footer to give Central a 37 to 34 lead. With 1:42 left Pelletier missed the front end of a 1 and 1. Memorial came down and missed a shot. The Crusaders rebounded the miss, kicked it out for a new offensive set, but quickly found Zoubel 3 feet from the rim with nothing but oxygen between him and a valuable 2 points. As Zoubel jumped to finish the layup Isiah Joseph came out of no where to make a tremendous block. It was the defensive play of the game and sent the Little Green faithful roaring. Memorial couldn't convert. The Crusaders fouled Dawson Dickson and sent him to the line for a 1 and 1 with 50 seconds left.
Missed free throws. These 3 words when put together can be a nightmare for one team and a ray of hope for another team. Coaches lie awake in beds all over the United States staring at their bed room ceilings on game nights thinking about missed FTs from their players. I'm sure some coaches have prescribed medications for missed FTs, especially during playoff season. Games can hang in the balance for a simple shot from 15 feet from the basket with no defensive pressure, but with the most enormous pressure of the moment of right then and there in the last minute of a basketball game.
Dickson missed the front end of the 1 and 1. Akot was fouled with 34 seconds left. He made 1 of 2 to make it 37 to 35 Central. Artiga was fouled with 18 seconds left. He stepped to the line for another Central 1 and 1. Artiga missed. Some one please get Doc that "missed FT" medication. Just as Doc was probably reaching for the missed FT medication a funny thing happened. A Memorial player rebounded the missed FT and then lost it out of bounds. A painful loss out of bounds for the Crusaders. Junior Brown was then fouled on the inbounds pass.
Now, I know what Doc might have been reaching for. It was the Junior Brown missed FT medication. Brown buried both double bonus freebies to give Central their largest lead of the game at 39 to 35 with 16 seconds left. A desperation 3 by O'Brien came up short. Brown was fouled on the rebound and netted 2 more shots from the charity stripe with 5 seconds left. Junior Brown lead Central with 14 points. Troy Pelletier had a solid game and scored 10. Mike Plentzas came up huge replacing the injured LaCount and scoring 9. Majak Wenyin had 10 and Tong Akat had 9 to pace the Crusaders.
An epic semi final contest is now set for Monday March 12th at 7:30 pm between Trinity and Central. They played each other on January 10th with Central prevailing at Trinity's gym 41 - 40. Something tells me fans of both Trinity and Central will need more than just missed FT medication to get themselves through this dramatic semi final game.