Sunday night's clash between St. John's Prep and Central Catholic is an instant classic. The intensity, the atmosphere, the level of play, the big shots. It had all the makings of a championship game. After the buzzer sounded the fans in attendance were all smiles, knowing they had just witnessed something truly special.
Although this game was played in Massachusetts and between two Mass teams, junior wing Quentin Bullen (Exeter, NH) and sophomore guard Ben Judson (Plaistow, NH) both played vital roles in the win for St. John's Prep. Bullen had a team-high 16 points including 2 clutch free throws late. Judson had 5 points, provided steady back court play in a hectic game and also hit a huge bucket to tie the game up down the stretch.
This game had an amazing finish, was played at a fast pace (yes there was a shot clock) and at a high level. You had a packed house, 2 rival schools and 2 of the best teams in the MIAA (both teams would beat any team from the NHIAA, without question). Central Catholic came back from down 44-25 2nd half deficit to take the lead in the 4th quarter. But Prep was able to pull out the win 64-62.
"That was the most fun game of my life" said Judson, who played virtually the entire game. "Our fan section was awesome, I thrived off of it."
You couldn't write a better finish to this one. Prep went up 44-25 early in the 3rd quarter, as their fans went nuts and it looked like they were going to run away with it. Central was playing without starting forward Doug Gemmell (Windham, NH) who is out with a concussion but hopes to return this week. And in the 1st half it looked as though they simply could not hang with such a good team without him in there.
In the 2nd half though Central stormed back. Senior Joel Berroa had a huge 2nd half to finish with a game-high 25 points. Then junior guard Tyler Nelson hit a big time 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in the 3rd quarter to cut the Prep lead to 51-46. The Red Raiders scored a whopping 23 points in the 3rd quarter, ending the frame on a 21-7 run.
Then with 4:48 left in the 4th quarter Nelson again hit a huge 3-pointer, this time from 5 feet behind the arc to tie it up 53-53. The crowd was going absolutely bonkers, as Prep called a timeout. Nelson (18 points) showed incredible composure, not even showing any emotion at all after either shot. That's what you call, acting like you've done it before!
"At halftime coach told us that it wasn't even close to over" said Bullen. "We knew they were going to come out strong in the 2nd half, they're a great team. But we just played great team basketball."
Berroa then gave Central the lead with a tough and-1 finish inside. He missed the free throw so it was 56-54 Central with 3:44 left. That's when Judson hit his clutch basket, a leaner from just inside the foul line to tie it up 56-56 with 3:00 to play. Judson had Nelson guarding him, he backed him down with the dribble, had Nelson guarding him very tightly. Then Judson did a spin move back towards the right side, which gave himself just enough room to get the shot off. It went in and we were all tied up.
"I was getting frustrated, because he was face-guarding me for awhile" said the 6-foot-4 lefty. "I just had to step up and hit a big shot."
After Central went back up 58-56, Prep got yet another big shot from senior guard Drex Costello (16 points). Costello drilled a HUGE 3-pointer from the left wing to put Prep up 59-58 with 1:00 left in regulation. Then Costello came up with a steal, drove the length of the floor to the basket and got fouled on his way up with the layup attempt. But wait, no call? How could this be? It was clearly a foul. Well sadly, it was only one of the many times in this game where a player went up for a shot, got hacked and there was no call. More on this later.
Prep then got a stop and Bullen was fouled and sent to the line for a 1-and-1 with his team still up by just 1 point. These were HUGE free throw attempts, and he hit them both. That put St. John's up 61-58 with :44 left.
"I was real nervous" said the 6-foot-2 Bullen. "But I knew I could knock them down. I had confidence in myself to do it. We shoot free throws a lot in practice."
You simply don't have games this good in the NHIAA.
Central with the ball now, down by 3, :44 left. Everyone in the gym knows they're trying to get the ball to Nelson for a 3, but Prep was playing him tight. Prep didn't give Central a chance to shoot a 3 though, as they fouled Berroa to send him to the line for a 1-and-1. He made the first shot, but missed the second. Jamahl Lopez grabbed the offensiove rebound for Central though and banked in a big shot. We were all tied up 61-61 with 10 seconds left!
Prep ball, Bullen has it in the corner, kicks over to Costello on the wing. With 6.5 seconds left, Costello fires away from beyond the arc. Shot is good! St. John's goes up 64-61. Once again, the crowd goes absolutely bonkers. Costello with yet another huge shot.
One last chance for Central, down 61-58 with 6.5 seconds left. They get the ball to Nelson, and he drives closer to the 3-point line to try and get a shot off. He was still 10 feet away from the arc, way too far to shoot it, when he got fouled with 3.8 seconds to go. Good decision by Prep - foul him and put him on the line for 2 shots so he can't tie it up with a 3.
Nelson makes the first shot to cut Prep's lead to 64-62. Then he does the smart thing and misses the second shot on purpose. He did a great job of shooting the ball so that it would cause a short rebound and give one of his teammates a better chance to get the rebound in close. That's exactly what happened, as Berroa grabbed the offensive board. However just as he tried to make a move to the bucket to get a shot off to possibly tie the game, he was stripped by a Prep player! Costello came away with the steal and dribbled out the clock. He went up for a layup attempt just after the buzzer sounded, but Berroa swatted the ball out of bounds. Game over! St. John's Prep wins 64-62. What a game!
The conclusion of the game showed just how intense this game was and just how fierce of a rivalry this is. Costello could have just dribbled te clock out, but he went up for a layup attempt, just after the buzzer sounded. Berroa had been sprinting abck on defense chasing him, and even though the game was over he still swatted the ball out of bounds as Costello tried to lay it in. One of the Prep players didn't like this and got in Berroa's face, causing a scrum near the basket as players from both teams had to be separated. The players then went to the locker roonm, and a game that nobody in attendance will ever forget was officially over.
Big 1st Half for Bullen
Quentin Bullen scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the 1st half (plus he played tough defense and pulled down 8 rebounds on the game). Bullen and Judson both hit 3-pointers in the 1st quarter, and Bullen really started to take over in the 2nd frame. He had a pair of quick layups in traffic. Then made a great defensive play to deny the ball to the post on Berroa. The Central player still tried to get it in to him, and Bullen knocked it away to a teammate. Then he hit aanother 3 on the left wing to put Prep up 36-18, and moments later made a tough finish with a floater in the lane.
"This whole season we have been unndersized, so I usually have to play inside and get rebounds" Bullen explained. "I haven't gotten looks. But tonight we went 4 out, 1 in. I played outside and got some good looks."
Game for a Good Cause
This game was part of the IAABO Board 130 Basketball Classic. The semi-finals were on Sunday and the consolation games and championship is on Monday, with both a boys and a girls division. In the other boys semif-nal match up, Lynn English defeated Springfield Central 81-73 in a fast paced, high scoring affair.
The primary objective for the tournament is to raise money for college scholarships for the participating teams and for Officials vs. Cancer. In the past 2 years they have raised over $7,000 for those 2 causes.
That's What I Call Irony!
Ok, so the IAABO put this torunament on. For those who don't know, that is an association that assigns and trains officials. However this was one of the worst officiated games I have seen in a long time. I don't usually comment on officials but this was just bad. Kids getting slammed at the rim with no call, bodies slamming into each other in the open court with no call. The refs were even about to let Nelson shoot a pair of free throws when it was clearly his teammate Lucas Hammel who got fouled. On another play it was clearly a block but instead an offensive foul was called. This was one of the best high school basketball games I've ever seen, I just wish the officiating could have held up their end.
We Need to Have Events Like This in NH!
Here you have a tournament, played right in the middle of the season. You pool together a bunch of teams, some of them are rival schools, some of them aren't, but all of them are REALLY good teams. You play the games at a great venue, play the games on a Sunday when you know everyone will be able to go (football season is over, what else are people going to do on a Sunday from 2-9 pm?). The games count in the standings for all the teams, so they really go at each other hard. You have some great games, in a freat atmosphere and it's for a good cause. Seriously people, why can't we do anything like this in NH?