Friday, February 15, 2013

Memorial Boys Run Merrimack Out of Own Gym

They say that one indicator of a great team is winning the games you are supposed to win. But what about the games when there is no clear cut favorite? If anything, Memorial might have been a slight underdog in their showdown with Merrimack on Friday night, considering they were playing on the road, with their starting point guard and their 6th man both ineligible.

Even still, the Manchester Memorial boys basketball team went to Merrimack and ran the Tomahawks out of their own gym, and on their own senior night. Memorial's starting five was Tong Akot, Zoubel Iradukunda, Kabongo Ngalakulondi, Joel Mayola and Wade Gop. These 5 played virtually the entire game, they scored ALL of their team's points and they were simply too fast and too good for the 10 kids that Merrimack countered with. The Crusaders played tenacious defense, got a ton of fast-break points on the other end and went on to win 81-55.

"This was our best overall team effort of the year" said Manchester Memorial head coach Jack Quirk. "If they play with that energy, defensive intensity and crash the offensive boards like that we can play with anybody."

It was a dominating performance by Memorial, who made a statement to the rest of Division I with this win that they are a legit title contender. Akot (20 points and 12 rebounds) dominated the paint and also stepped outside and hit a pair of 3-pointers. Iradukunda had a game-high 21 points, as he attacked the rim all game long with reckless abandon.

The play of the game was an full court alley-oop from Akot to Iradukunda. Akot grabbed a defensive rebound and turned to make an outlet pass to start the fast-break. He then looked further up the court and saw Iradukunda sprinting past all of Merrimack's defenders on his way to the hoop. Akot then threw a pass the length of the floor to his teammate. Iradukunda leaped up, caught the pass and all while in mid-air he turned his body to face the basket and laid it in for 2 points. A great pass by Akot, and an incredibly athletic finish by Iradukunda. Even the Merrimack fans in attendance couldn't help but be impressed. That play summed this game up in a nutshell.

"Our last couple of practices have been really good" said Akot. "Ever since the West game we've been playing better, and we had good defense tonight."

Meanwhile, Ngalakulondi (15 points and 9 rebounds) made some big time plays of his own. After Merrimack had taken a 10-9 lead in the 1st quarter, he went on a personal 6-0 run. First he made a strong baseline drive and finish in traffic, and then on back-to-back plays he grabbed an offensive rebound and went up strong with the put-back. Then in the 3rd quarter on back-to-back possessions he beat his man off the dribble, crossing over from right to left, getting to the rim for an and-1 finish.

While Akot, Iradukunda and Ngalakulondi might have been the stars, Mayola and Gop also played valuable roles in the win and were perfect role players. Mayola had 12 points, Gop had 9. Both players hit big shots and played tough defense.

"We always have a different guy step up" said Coach Quirk. Tonight it was Wade. Just a couple games ago he was playing JV, but he showed that he belonged out there tonight. He looked like a starter."

One of the keys for Memorial was to limit the points that Merrimack star player Eric Gendron could get. The 6-foot-3 junior wing had a nice spurt in the 1st quarter with a strong drive and finish, then took a charge on 'D' and then nailed an 18-footer from the baseline. But after that he was very quiet. Gendron finished with 13 points, but most of those came in the 4th quarter after Memorial was up by 20 and had the win secured.

"On defense we just couldn't let Gendron go off, because he's basically their whole team" said Iradukunda. "We had Kabongo on him, then Joel. We just tried to rotate guys on him so nobody got tired."

Merrimack Was Right There For Most of 1st Half Before Memorial Broke it Open
With Gendron leading the way, Merrimack led 10-9 in the 1st quarter. But then Ngalakulondi went on his 6-0 run to put Memorial right back up by 5. The Tomahawks battled back though, getting jumpers from Brandon Malloch (11 points) and Shayne Bourque (6 points). The two teams traded buckets for much of the 2nd quarter and it was a tight game back-and-forth. But then Memorial went on a run late in the 2nd quarter to go up 33-23 at halftime. The Crusaders ended the half on a 16-4 run. The run was started by Gop who hit a three, then Iradukunda made 2 quick layups in transition. Akot then went inside for 2 more points and then Gop hit another three. That made it 29-21 Memorial with 2:06 left in the half and forced Merrimack head coach Tim Goodridge to call a timeout. Then Mayola drilled a 3-pointer of his own and all of a sudden Memorial was hitting on all cylinders. When all 5 guys on the court can hurt you like that it is VERY hard to defend them.

Memorial continued their run into the 3rd quarter, when they scored a whopping 27 points! They outscored the Tomahawks 27-13, it was 60-38 after 3 quarters. It was a highly anticpated game going in, but it was over after 3 quarters.

This game could have been a little closer, but Merrimack just missed too many layups and had too many turnovers. They had 9 turnovers in the game's first 6 minutes alone.

Impressive Win for Shorthanded Crusaders
No Oumaru Kante, no Tshief Ngalakulondi, no problem. Kante is the team's starting point guard and Ngalakulondi is the team's 6th man (and Kabongo's younger brother). Both players were out for this game and it is uncertain when or if they will return.

"If we don't get them back it's their fault, not ours" said Coach Qurik. "It's up to them. If they do what what they have to do, they will play."

Could Depth Hurt Memorial in Tourney?
Memorial's starting 5 played virtually the whole game. If they don't get Kante and Ngalakulondi back they could have some depth issues come tournament time. Tonight it was a non-factor though, as Merrimack went much deeper into their bench, playing 10 kids and still got blown out. But whether Memorial can play at that high of a level with the saem 5 guys remains to be seen.

"We've been playing like that the whole time" said Iradukunda. "We're used to it now, and we're in we're in good shape."

Congrats to Merrimack Seniors
Even though they lost, congratulations are in order to Merrimack's 5 seniors on their senior night - Brad Jarry, Brandon Malloch, Mitchell Denton, Connor Whelan and Bobby Keefe.

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