The Phillips Exeter Academy boys basketball team is on quite a roll. They are now 19-1, have won 12 games in a row and on Wednesday night they went on the road and beat up on one of the best teams in New England. Tilton has Wayne Selden, the #12 ranked recruit in the country (committed to Kansas). But Exeter played tenacious defense, moved the ball well on offense and went on a 24-5 run in the 2nd half.
It was a great team effort for Exeter, who went on the 64-47 win in NEPSAC action in front of a good crowd. This game was proof that basketball truly is a TEAM game. Tilton has a kid in Selden who will probably be playing in the NBA in a couple years. While they have had the best player in the gym, Exeter was the better TEAM.
Harry Rafferty (Durham, NH), Duncan Robinson (New Castle, NH), Chris Braley and Jordan Hill all scored in double figures to lead a well balanced scoring attack. Curtis Arsenault (Berlin, NH) scored just 3 points but had 8 rebounds, 2 steals and played outstanding defense. This game was played at a very high level with both teams really going at each other hard for 32 minutes.
"We wanted to show that we're one of the best teams in New England" said Rafferty, who played the entire game up until the final minute with Exeter up by 18. "We're a very deep team, we have 11 guys who will play college basketball."
Exeter was down 30-26 at halftime, but outscored Tilton 38-17 in the 2nd half.
"We're a 2nd half team" said Arsenault, who led Berlin High to the D-III state title in NH in 2012. "At halftime when we were down by 4 Coach told us that we had them right where we want them."
It was a fast and furious comeback for the Big Red. Robinson drilled two HUGE 3-pointers right in the beginning of the 2nd half which got the team rolling. The first one came off a kick-out by Braley (committed to Stony Brook) which cut the Tilton lead in half and made it 33-30. Then the 6-foot-7 Robinson (committed to Williams College) hit a shot from six feet behind the 3-point line.
Tilton head coach Marcus O'Neil was then called for a technical foul, and Robinson made both free throws. It was 8 points for Robinson in less than 2 minutes, and now Exeter really had the momentum on their side.
"I just try to take good shots" said Robinson. "Harry found me with a good pass on the second one. It's been our thing all year, wearing teams down with the way we play defense and our depth."
Hill (committed to Wisconsin) then made a steal and went in for an easy slam dunk on the other end. That gave Exeter a 37-33 lead with 11:18 left in the 2nd half. The crowd really got into the game, as the Tilton fans were looking for a travel call on that play by Hill. You could really feel the intensity in the gym. Both teams were really going hard on defense. You better be able to handle the basketball or you were going to get it stolen from you.
Hill then hit a jumper from 18 feet to make it 41-36 Exeter. Hill then hustled to keep a possession alive, grabbed the loose ball and made a nice pass to Braley for a layup. Keon Burns then hit a BIG 3-pointer to put the Big Red up 45-37 with 4:50 left to play.
Selden then picked up a technical foul, and Rafferty hit both foul shots. Exeter just kept pouring it on from there, as Rafferty (committed to Wesleyan) drove hard to te basket from the right wing. He finished on the left side in traffic for a clutch hoop. Braley then grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back in to make it 54-38.
The Tilton bench was then called for yet another technical foul. It was the third technical of the 2nd have for Tilton - the wheels were coming off the bus. In a highly competitive, intense game one team was keeping their composure and the other was not.
"This is 100% the closest team I've ever been a part of" said Arsenault.
Exeter lead by as many as 18 when it was 60-42 and they went on to win 64-47.
Selden finished with a game-high 17 points. He scored just 4 points in the 2nd half though, and those didn't come until Exeter had a 15 point lead late in the game.
"He's a really, really good player" said Rafferty. "But we just tried to make him work. He hit some tough shots early, and then we tightened up our defense in the 2nd half."
Everyone on Exeter played tough defense, but you couldn't help but be impressed by the toughness, grit and effort displayed by Arsenault. For much of the game he had the task of guarding two of the best players in New England - Selden and Tilton point guard Jonathan Joseph.
"That's my role here" Arsenault said with a smile. "I lost some of my offense during the fall when I was playing soccer. But then I realized we had other guys who could score and I could fill a different role."
Rafferty, Robinson and Braley all played AAU together for the past 2 years with MB Nation and then the Middlesex Magic. They have great chemistry on the court together, and when you add in pieces like Hill, Arsenault, Davis Reid and Burns you have the makings of a really dangerous squad. Reid (7 points) will be playing his college ball alongside Rafferty at Wesleyan.
Selden is certainly a fun player to watch. He's 6-foot-5 and is extremely strong and athletic. In the 1st half, Selden cut baseline, caught a pass in traffic and slammed down a 2-handed dunk. He also hit three 3-pointers, and two of them came with a hand right in his face. I definiely wouldn't be surprised to see him in the NBA in the coming years. Joseph and Terance Mann also played well for Tilton, but Exeter was just deeper and had more weapons. In the 2nd half the Big Red were getting all of the rebounds, all of the loose balls, they were hitting big shots. And it also didn't hurt that they got called for zero technicals while Tilton was called for 3.
It was a huge win for Exeter, who solidified their place as one of the top prep school basketball teams in New England.