If the Prospect Mountain High boys basketball team is to win the 2012 Division III championship they would have to beat each of the top 3 seeds in the tournament. In the quarterfinals they went on the road and beat #3 seed Campbell (a team they lost to twice during the regular season). Then on Tuesday night in the semi-finals they upset #2 seed Conant (who didn't lose a game all year to a team from NH) by a score of 43-34. Now the Timberwolves head to the D-III championship game for the second time in four years. They will take on #1 seed Berlin (who is 20-1 on the season) on Saturday in the final.
Although Conant was clearly the favorite in this game going in, Prospect Mt. got them to play their game. All season long the Orioles have won games by pressing on defense, forcing turnovers or quick jumpers and from there they get steals or defensive rebounds and look to get easy baskets in transition. Well folks, the key stat in this game is 0. That is the number of fast break points Conant got.
"We had some opportunities where we stole the ball but we missed a lot of layups" lamented Conant head coach Eric Saucier. "We got some good looks, they just weren't falling. This was our lowest scoring game of the year. Their offensive rebounds were the difference."
Not only did Prospect Mountain hold Conant to zero fast break points but they also out-rebounded them 45-27, including a whopping 18 offensive rebounds. Leading the way on the boards for the Timberwolves was Logan Roberts (10 rebounds), and Jay Mousseau and Austin Perrin who both pulled down 9 boards apiece. Mousseau also had a game-high 15 points. All 3 of those guys are at least 6'3" while Conant only had one player above 6'1" and that's Devin Springfield who plays on the perimeter. On the Timberwolves Roberts, Perrin and Mousseau are collectively known as 'RPM'.
"We knew had the size and that the way to win would be rebounding" said Prospect Mountain senior guard Zach Drouin. "RPM played one hell of a game."
Conant actually led this game for most of the way. The Orioles jumped out to a quick 18-9 lead in 2nd quarter, as they were able to force 10 turnovers by Prospect Mt. in the 1st half and Springfield scored 11 of his team-high 13 points during the first 2 quarters.
"We knew in the 1st half they'd pressure us and we went down by 9" said Drouin. "But then in the 2nd quarter we got the jitters out. Coach told us to not try to dribble through their press but to pass it instead so that's what we did."
The Prospect Mt. back court of Drouin and Pat Cassidy came up big late in the game. Drouin (12 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds) hit a clutch pull-up jumper from the right elbow to put his team on top 28-27 late in the 3rd quarter. After a very low scoring period it was all tied up 28-28 heading to the 4th.
For the first 5 minutes of the 4th quarter the teams went back and forth, as one team would take the lead, then the other would tie it back up, then they would take the lead, etc. And with every basket one side of the bleachers went nuts while the other side was silenced.
Mousseau made a catch inside and an and-1 finish to put Prospect Mt. up 30-28. Conant senior guard Dan Sirois answered back by slicing through the defense for a layup, tying it right back up at 30-30. As the quarter went on however you could notice one team utilizing a better strategy on offense than the other. Prospect Mountain was pounding the ball inside while Conant was settling for the outside shot.
"I told them that the post players have to touch it every time" said Prospect Mountain head coach Tom Bourdeau, who is in his first year at the helm. "If we took an outside shot ok, but I wanted it going inside first and then maybe we kick it out from there."
That strategy worked out better than Conant's as the Orioles really struggled offensively over the game's final 3 quarters.
"It's a credit to them and their length" said Coach Saucier. "Our shots just didn't fall, we've been making those shots all year until now."
Still this game was far from over. After a floater in the lane by Springfield the game was once again all tied up, 32-32. He hit that shot after Roberts missed a layup which would have given the Timberwolves a 34-30 lead. Then senior guard Keegan O'Hern hit a runner inside to put Conant back on top 34-32, and just then it looked like the Orioles finally had the momentum back on their side.
But it wasn't meant to be, as Conant was outscored 9-0 over the game's final 1:30. Right after O'Hern's shot Prospect Mt. came storming back up the floor and just 6 seconds later they got the ball inside to Mousseau who converted his second and-1 finish of the 4th quarter. He did miss the free throws on both and-1's though, so it was still tied up 34-34.
After a Conant turnover Cassidy would hit the shot of the game. Prospect Mt. had possession with under a minute left in a tie game. They moved the ball around the perimeter, and Drouin passed it over to Cassidy around the top of the key. Cassidy, who was scoreless the entire 1st half and only had 3 points on the game so far hit the shot, nothing but net to put the Timberwolves up 37-34 with :45 left. It was one of those shots where you didn't need a three all you needed was a two so as he shot it you're thinking it's a bad decision but then it goes in and you say what a great shot it was.
"He did the same thing in the Campbell game" said Drouin. "We were trying to slow it down and work it around, he shot it anyways and it went in. I had no doubt he would make it, as soon as it left his hand I knew it was going in and the momentum was ours."
Springfield tried to answer back with a three-pointer of his own on the other end but his shot was off the mark. Prospect Mountain added 6 more free throws from there for the 43-34 final.
"We lost 4 of our last 5 to end the regular season so I think a lot of people were doubting us" said Coach Bourdeau after the game. "Losing those games helped us learn how to win. It made them more focused. Those losses were the best thing that has happened to this team."
As for Conant, even though they came up short they are still the premier basketball program in Division III. They have won 8 state titles in the last 14 years, including 5 straight championships from 2006-2010. And with Springfield, Jake Carlson, Eli Hodgson, Robert O'Brien and Kyle Carland all returning next season they will be the favorites to win the title in 2013 (with Campbell being a close second).
Prospect Mountain will take on Berlin in the D-III championship game on Saturday night at 5:00 at SNHU.