They were the heavy favorites in the preseason, they were the top team in the division all year, and they showed that they are hands down the best team in D-III with 20 point wins in both the semi-finals and championship game. Robert O’Brien dropped a game-high 21 points, teammates Devin Springfield, Jake Carlson and Kyle Carland also scored in double figures and the Conant High boys basketball team won the 2012-2013 Division III state championship with a convincing 66-46 win over Campbell. It is the 10th state title and 6th in the last 8 years for the Orioles.
"It's a dream come true" said Carlson, who scored 12 points, including a number of big time buckets in the 2nd half. "It feels so good that all of our hard work, all of those nights me and him (Springfield) stayed after practice shooting has paid off."
Conant's starting 5 (Springfield, Carlson, Carland, O'Brien and Eli Hodgson) is as quick and talented as any in the state. They were too much for Campbell to handle. The Orioles dominated early and lead 17-6 after 1 quarter.
"We've been playing together since 3rd grade, we know each other's tendancies" said Springfield, who was also on Conant's last championship team as a freshman in 2010. "All 5 guys can score, I knew my teammates would step up."
Conant was really in a groove early on. O'Brien put the ball through his legs and drilled a smooth pull-up jumper at the left elbow, and Carland followed right after that with a 3-pointer from the right wing. Carland showed tremendous athleticism as he leaped high above all of the other players while going up for an offensive rebound. He was able to keep the possession alive by tipping the ball to a teammate. The Conant fans erupted after that one! They got it to Carlson, who drove baseline and made a tough double pump finish. O'Brien hit another pull-up jumper to make it 9-2.
Campbell forward Zach Bergeron answered the run with a good drive and finish - the Cougars really needed that score!
Then Campbell switched up their defense, which slowed Conant down a little bit.
"We switched to a triangle and 2 on Springfield and O'Brien to stop their 2 best players" said Campbell head coach John Langlois. "Then their other players were hesitating against it. We started with a diamond and 1 to shade O'Brien, but that didn't work too well."
Conant went up 20-6 early in the 2nd quarter after Carland hit another 3. The Orioles continued to roll, as Carslon made a good finish in transition, then Carland made a great steal and zipped a pass over to Springfield for an and-1 finish that got Conant and their fans pumped up.
The Orioles went up 34-14, but Campbell ended the half on a 6-0 run. The Cougars carried that momentum into the 3rd quarter, which is when senior point guard Max Gouveia took over the game. Gouveia did it all in the 3rd quarter - explosove drives, tough finishes, smooth pull-up jumpers, stealing the ball on defense. It was a very impressive quarter for him. He scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the quarter. Gouveia hit a 3-pointer to cut the Conant lead to just 39-33 with 2:10 left in the quarter.
"I wanted to go out with a bang" said Gouveia. "We didn't feel like we did that in the 1st half. We just didn't want to give up."
"On the triangle and 2 I had Max on O'Brien" said Coach Langlois. "So not only was he scoring but he was also guarding their best scorer. Max played very well, he played his heart out. He should be a first-team player."
Unfortunately, Campbell didn't get enough production from players besides Gouveia. Campbell had 1 of him and Conant meanwhile had 4 different kids who were slashing to the rim and hitting shots.
"They started out taking away Devin" said O'Brien. "But we have too many weapons on our team."
Carlson really came alive offensively late in the game with some BIG baskets. He drove baseline for a score, then O'Brien followed with a strong drive and finish on the left side with a defender all over him.
"We talked about having confidence, believing in each other and hitting shots" said Conant head coach Eric Saucier. "We're all about playing basketball and attacking. A lot of teams pull the ball out and stall when they have a lead but we don't do that."
Conant kept hitting shots and getting stops on the other end, and really played terrific ball in the 4th quarter. They increased the lead to 57-40, and then Hodgson (in foul trouble much of the game) made an and-1 put-back to make it 60-40 with 2:14 left. The Orioles did a great job on the offensive glass all game. Conant then took their starters out, and their fans went nuts as each one headed to the bench. Conant only lost 1 game all year (to Campbell) and Carlson did not play in that game.
Hurting the Cougars chances was the fact that one of their better players (senior wing Jacob Morgan) scored 0 points and played just 11 minutes. Morgan was playing with a sprained ankle.