On Thursday night in the preliminary round of the Division III tournament the defending champion Somersworth boys basketball team did what a #5 seed is supposed to do against a #12 seed - they won. The Hilltoppers got a strong all around team effort on both sides of the basketball and defeated a shorthanded Fall Mountain team 61-38.
Somersworth's top 6 players all scored at least 6 points in the win, as senior forward Matt Robbins led the way with a game-high 16 points and 8 rebounds. Robbins and senior point guard Jeremy Dognies (9 points, 6 assists and 3 steals) both had big games even though they were both in foul trouble for much of the game which helped Fall Mountain to hang around for most of the way. Also playing well for the Hilltoppers were Josh Jacques (12 points), Jon Crenshaw (10 points) and Drew Francoeur (8 points).
Fall Mountain gave it their all, but they were playing without starting point guard Nello Fico which hurt their chances, especially with the way Somersworth pressures the basketball full court.
"His dad wouldn't let him get on the bus to come here" said Fall Mountain head coach Jason Bardis. "Nello is our point guard, he played every minute of every game for us all year. But because the roads are bad his dad wouldn't let him come. So our whole game plan went out the window."
The Hilltoppers took care of the ball and found the open man on offense which led to a number of layups. They did not hit one three-pointer (they only attempted 1 shot from the outside all game) but they still scored 61 points because they moved the ball well against the Fall Mountain zone defense and got layup after layup against it.
After an easy shot inside by Jacques, followed by a steal and layup on the other end by Dognies, Somersworth opened up an early 14-5 lead. It looked like this one was going to be over in a hurry, but then Fall Mountain battled back, closing out the 1st quarter on a 6-0 run. The Wildcats were right in the game, only trailing 14-11.
Keeping Fall Mountain in the game was senior forward Kaian Wilkes, who was rebounding the ball, hitting mid-range jumpers and fearlessly driving to the rim. Wilkes (9 points) and senior guard Shawn Kelly (9 points) led the Wildcats in scoring, with all of Kelly's points coming on three-pointers.
But then Somersworth went on a 9-2 run to start the 2nd quarter, which was led by the hustling and play making of Dognies and Crenshaw as the Hilltoppers took a 23-13 lead with 4:49 left in the 1st half. Still, Fall Mountain continued to hang around, cutting the lead down to 7 at 23-16. Not only was Dognies and Robbins in foul trouble, but Somersworth was missing a lot of layups which would have given them a bigger lead.
In the 3rd quarter though is where Coach Lucas' team broke the game open. Between late in the 2nd quarter and the first few minutes of the 3rd, Somersworth went on a 15-3 run. Jacques drove it hard to the rim and made the layup (you CANNOT let him go left!). Then after a Fall Mountain turnover, Dognies pushed it hard up the court, slashing through a pair of defenders on his way to the basket for 2 more points. Robbins then finished a layup on the break, followed by a pull-up jumper by Francoeur (pictured above). Robbins then made another strong drove to the rim, this time converting an and-1 finish. The points were coming fast and furious for the Hilltoppers, who were all of a sudden hitting on all cylinders. They were now up 41-22 halfway through the 3rd quarter.
The layup line continued for Somersworth, as they made it 50-27 with 6:39 left in the 4th quarter. This thing was all but over. Ryan Bentley, Nick Burns, Kelly, Wilkes and Tyler Gendron fought hard all game for Fall Mountain but were simply outmatched by a better, faster, more skilled Somersworth squad who cruised to the 61-38 win.
Sophomore Matt Wood was playing point guard in place of Fico. Wood had 6 points and did his best out there, but he was put in a tough spot considering he's not used to being the point guard all game against a team that pressures the ball like Somersworth. Fall Mountain was right there with Somersworth the whole 1st half, so you have to wonder how the game would have gone if Fico had gotten on the bus with his teammates and played in this game. Surely the Hilltoppers would have still won, but it definitely would have been closer. The Wildcats end their season with a 9-10 record.
"We just never really got in a rhythm on offense tonight" said Coach Bardis. "And on defense we played a solid zone over our last 5 games but tonight I think we came out on them too much on the perimeter which opened up the middle fr them to get looks."
Somersworth now advances to the D-III quarterfinals where they will go on the road and play at #4 seed Hopkinton. Hopkinton defeated #20 seed Newfound 60-44 in the prelims on Wednesday night. Both Somersworth and Hopkinton had identical 14-4 records during the regular season, but the Hawks are the higher seed and get home court advantage because they beat the Hilltoppers in the regular season. Hopkinton won that game 40-38 way back on December 16. Even though Hopkinton won that game back in December you could argue that Somersworth is playing better basketball NOW. Why's that? Well both teams played against #9 seed Raymond at home late in the season - Hopkinton lost 61-53 whereas Somersworth beat the Rams 66-60.