Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Led By Defense, Central Remains Undefeated

Tough. Scrappy. Physical. Tenacious. These words all describe the defense played by the Manchester Central boys basketball team on Tuesday night in their 47-37 win over Spaulding.

Spaulding seniors Dominic Paradis and Nick MacGregor are two of the top players in Division I, and are both capable of scoring 20+ points on any given night. But in this game Central did a great job of containing them, holding Paradis to just 11 points (just 1 field goal) and MacGregor to just 7.

“Paradis is a great player, but Troy Pelletier did a very good job of defending him” said Manchester Central head coach Doc Wheeler. “Troy is a fantastic athlete, and we usually take him off the other team’s top scorer so he has more energy for offense. But Paradis is a tough match up and we felt Troy would be the best one to guard him.”

Not only did Pelletier play tough defense, but he also came up big on offense down the stretch. After a quiet 1st half where he only scored 2 points, Pelletier dropped 15 points in the 2nd half. He had some clutch drives in the 4th quarter where he went strong to the rim, got fouled and made his free throws. Pelletier than drove baseline and hit a floater.

That was all part of a 17-2 run by Central to end the game. Spaulding went on a 9-0 run between the end of the 3rd quarter and into the 4th. The run was capped by a 3-pointer by MacGregor and a pair of foul shots by Paradis. The Red Raiders led 35-30 early in the 4th quarter.

But from that point on Central outscored Spaulding 17-2. Dawson Dickson (game-high 22 points) drilled a 3-pointer to cut the SHS lead to 35-33. Pelletier may have taken over late, but Dickson was the team’s most consistent scorer. He had 11 points in the 1st half and 11 in the 2nd. Dickson connected on five 3-pointers, in addition to running the team’s offense.

Soon after Dickson hit that 3 though, Coach Wheeler was called for a technical foul. It was Central’s second technical of the 2nd half (the first one was called on Nick Makris). You would think that getting T’d up twice in the 2nd half would be a recipe for disaster, especially when you’re playing on the road and against one of the top teams in the state. But instead the opposite happened, as the Little Green really got fired up and started playing even harder.

One player who really picked up the intensity was sophomore guard Brett Hanson. Hanson played a strong game throughout, but during that fourth quarter he looked like one of the top defenders in the state. He made life extremely difficult for the Spaulding guards, particularly Seth Fogg. Hanson played great on-the-ball defense on Fogg, then stole the ball from him and took it in for an easy layup. That play was sandwiched between a couple of Pelletier drives where he got to the line and made his FT’s. And just like that Central went up 39-36.

“My shot wasn’t falling, so I started to go to the rim” explained Pelletier, who is one of the state’s best players in both basketball and football. “Then we locked up on D and played together. They beat us last year with that fade pass from the high post to the opposite wing for those threes, so we focused on stopping that.”

Then Pelletier hit a leaner on the baseline to make it 41-36. Spaulding tried to answer back, but again Hanson was a menace on defense, forcing Fogg into a turnover. Dickson hit a pair of free throws on the other end to make it 43-36. Central was on a 13-1 run, and a 10-0 run since the Wheeler technical. From there they cruised to the 47-37 win.

“We collapsed at critical points in the game” lamented Paradis, who is a four year starter for Spaulding. “We gave them chances to get back in the game and they took advantage. They were physical on defense and forced us out of our offense. I’d like to play them again.”

Don’t be surprised if that happens. Both Central and Spaulding made it to UNH for the Final Four last season, and they are both serious contenders to get back there this year.

This was definitely a low scoring; grind it out, half court battle. It was a game dominated by defense, with both teams playing tough, hard nosed man-to-man on ‘D’. In the 1st half it was back-and-forth, with neither team leading by more than two points - it was that close.

The action and pace of the game did pick up a little in the 3rd quarter. Dickson hit a 3-pointer right off the bat to begin the 2nd half to put Central up 20-19. Spaulding junior forward Charlie Nevejans scored a bucket to put the Red Raiders back on top, but then Pelletier answered right back with a three of his own to make it 23-21 CHS.

Hanson then went strong to the rim, but was blocked by MacGregor. Hanson shook it off though, and on the other end he blocked a shot attempt inside by Fogg. You could really feel the intensity at that point.

Pelletier continued his momentum on offense, getting his mid-range game going by hitting a floater in the lane off the bounce. That gave Central a 25-21 lead with 5:02 left in the 3rd quarter – the first time all game where either team led by 2 possessions.

Spaulding called timeout, and out of it they ran the ‘fade play’ that Pelletier mentioned with Nevejans passing it from the high post to Fogg on the opposite wing for a three. That got Spaulding within 1 at 25-24, and that’s when Makris got T’d up. He fell down while battling for a rebound. He must have thought he got fouled, but no call was made. He said something (may have just been saying it to himself but the ref heard it) and he got the technical. Paradis made both FT’s and now Spaulding re-gained the lead at 26-25.

Then Central stormed right back, and after a BIG 3-pointer by Dickson they took the lead right back and now led 30-26. But that is when Coach Cronin’s team went on their 9-0 run. Quinn Connelly and Paradis hit a couple of quick floaters, and it was tied 30-30 with :55 left in the 3rd quarter. Spaulding then got the ball back and had a chance to go back up. They drew up a good play to get Paradis a look out of the baseline out of bounds, by lobbing it up to him over the shorter defender. But his shot attempt just barely rimmed out, and we were headed to the 4th tied 30-30.

Also playing well for Spaulding was 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Anthony Cicotelli and junior guard Mike Plentzas for Central. With Trinity’s 60-56 loss tonight to Merrimack, the Little Green are now the only undefeated team left in D-I.

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