On Tuesday night in Lebanon, the Pembroke Academy boys basketball team once again showed why they are the odds on favorite to win the Division II state title in 2013. Lebanon is a potential Final Four team in D-II, yet Pembroke went on the road and defeated the Raiders 66-43.
Pembroke got a balanced scoring attack, as three different players scored in double figures and six different Spartans scored at least 7. Matt Persons led the way with a game-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers in the 2nd half which were absolute daggers. Two of them came late in the 3rd quarter, during a stretch where Pembroke increased their lead from just 4 points to 16.
"We got our defense going and got out in transition" said Persons. "We got into our offense before they got back on defense. Rene (Maher) is great at driving and kicking it out to me for shots."
Defensively, Pembroke keyed in on Lebanon's star senior guard David Hampton. Hampton recently eclipsed the 1,000 point mark, and is averaging over 20 point per game on the season. But tonight he was held to just 8 points, with 2 of those points coming in the game's closing minutes with Pembroke up by 20+ points.
"He's a great high school basketball player" said Pembroke head coach Matt Alosa. "You can't stop a player like David Hampton, you can only try to contain him. But he plays AAU with all our guys so I have some insider info on how to stop him."
Not only was Hampton held to just 8 points on the night, but Lebanon's other star player did not play at all. Senior forward Matt Cowles is out for the rest of the season due to personal reasons. As a result, Pembroke's bigs Jordan Williams, Dominic Timbas and Cameron Taylor dominated inside.
"They absolutely destroyed us on the boards" lamented Lebanon head coach Keith Matte. "They'd get offensive rebounds, leaving us disorganzed on defense and that's how they hit all of those threes."
Lebanon hung around for most of the game but let the game get away from them late. Dominick Morrill had a strong 1st half with 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Kalin Sou and Martin Gradijan both came off the bench and delivered strong drives and finishes in the 2nd quarter to cut into the PA lead. But the Spartans also got strong bench play in the 2nd quarter, as sophomore forward Cameron Taylor came in and scored 7 quick points.
Lebanon had a chance to cut the lead to just 3 late in the 1st half, as freshman Austin Whaley converted a layup in transition. But he was called for traveling before the shot (tough call) and then Pembroke got quick buckets from Taylor and Patrick Welch (13 points). So instead of being a 3 point game, just like that the lead was back up to 32-23 PA.
Nic Shepard answered back with a clutch 3-pointer from the right wing with :02 left to make it a 32-26 game at halftime. Shepard hit the shot right in front of his older brother Craig Shepard (former Trinity High star who went on to play at Franklin Pierce).
Lebanon then cut the Spartans lead to just 4 points with 3:40 left in the 3rd quarter at 38-34 following 3-pointers by Hampton and Vin Guerin. You could really feel the intensity in the gym as both teams gave it everything they had. props also go to Pembroke's student section - this was an away game, it's a regular season game in January and the game was a good hour away, yet they still had so many fans their it almost seemed like a Pembroke home game.
That last 3:40 of the 3rd quarter was the difference in the game. Pembroke ended the quarter on a 12-0 run. They went from only being up by 4 to being up by 16. And they did it despite the fact that Williams, Welch and Maher were all in foul trouble.
Maher hit a 3 and then followed that up with a put-back. That's when Persons hit his two BIG threes as Pembroke kept the momentum rolling. Maher continued to run the offense and make plays in the 4th quarter and Persons kept hitting shots. Welch had a strong and-1 finish in the 4th quarter to ice the game, while Taylor, Williams and Timbas dominated the boards.
"It helps because we've been playing together for so long now" said Persons. "I started playing with Pat and Rene in 6th and 7th grade, so we've been playing together for 7 or 8 years now. We all play AAU together as well which also helps with our chemistry."
All 3 of them play for the GS Raiders, as do Williams, Timbas, Taylor and also Hampton. The program is coached by Matt Alosa's father Frank.
The other key stretch in this game were the first few minutes of the game. Pembroke jumped out to a quick 16-2 lead early. Lebanon couldn't get anything going offensively early, as they were having problems with the 3/4 court trap that the Spartans were using. This forced Lebanon into a number of early turnovers, which PA turned into quick buckets on the other end.
Even without Cowles, this is still a Lebanon team capable of making a run to Durham. As for Pembroke, it's championship or bust. They're now 11-0, this should definitely be their year.
"Toughness, rebounding and defense" Persons said confidently. "That's the key for us."