By: Jeremy Leveille
Championships are won in March, not January. But with that being said, things are looking pretty darn good right now for the Manchester Central Little Green, who are hands down the best team in the NHIAA right now. Their status as the top team was further cemented on Friday night, winning easily against a very tough Londonderry team (who was 6-1 coming in).
Central came out strong right from the opening tip, jumping out to a quick 19-5 lead in the 1st quarter. They pushed their lead to 20 in the 3rd quarter and cruised to the win from there, winning 68-49. Brett Hanson and the Martin brothers from Florida combined for 59 of their team's 68 points, as Hanson dropped a game-high 26, Jon Martin had 20 and Joey Martin chipped in with 13.
"I was happy with the way we came out" said Manchester Central head coach Doc Wheeler. "They're very good, and they have lots of shooters, so to only give up 16 in the 1st half - I was happy about that. But they got 33 in the 2nd half and that's way too much. Defensively we need to communicate better and play more physical."
So Central can actually get better? That's a scary thought for the rest of Division I.
Londonderry was playing without possibly their best player, senior guard Drew Coveney who was injured in the Lancers' recent win over Bishop Guertin. Central took advantage of that, by going on a 14-2 run early. Jon Martin drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to get things started. Cody Ball answered for Londonderry with a 3 of his own, nothing but net from the left wing. Tyler Kelly hit a jumper from the elbow to make it 7-3 Central.
Then the came a nice flurry of high level plays on both sides, as Lancers freshman point guard Caleb Green hit a cutting Joey Kwiatkowski with a nice dish for a layup. That was quickly followed by a great high-low look from Jon Martin to his brother Joey Martin for 2, then just seconds later Central gets the ball back and Jon Martin breaks free underneath layup. To say that Central has the ability to score in bunches would be an understatement. It was now 11-5 Little Green, and Londonderry head coach Nate Stanton was forced to call timeout.
Then Hanson hit a pair of FT's, then on the next time down the floor he cut baseline, caught a pass right in stride, finishing inside for an and-1. Joey Martin converted a put-back to make it 18-5 and then a FT made it 19-5. Londonderry was getting good looks, they just weren't getting the bounces. Not only that, but the Lancers like to run a a weave play where the guards hand the ball off to each other up top and when each one gets the ball up top they look for either a shot or driving lane and Central was doing a nice job of hedging out and defending this. They were extending their defense out on the perimeter and really pressuring the Londonderry guards, deflecting passes and forcing turnovers.
Then Hanson made a great hustle play, diving on the floor for a steal and preventing a fast break layup for the Lancers. Max Coleman hit a 3 right before the end of the quarter as Londonderry closed to within 19-8 after 1. The Lancers ran the old wheel play that Salem has run since EJ Perry was coaching there to free up Coleman for that shot. Who was coaching with Perry back then? Mark Dunham. Who is now one of Londonderry's assistant coaches? Mark's brother Mike Dunham. Hence, now the wheel play to free up a shooter lives on at Londonderry.
Central continued to roll in the 2nd quarter, as Mike Plentzas made a nice hustle play to save the ball from going out of bounds and in one motion throwing it out to anson who hit a 3-pointer as Londonderry was unable to close out on him. Jon Martin again showed his passing ability, dishing it over to his brother Joey cutting to the rim for another layup. Hanson went hard after an offensive rebound after a missed free throw, you need to box him out! Central matched their largest lead, 27-13, before Kwiatkowski hit a 3 to cut it back down to 27-16 and it was 29-16 Central at halftime.
Freshman guard jake Coleman hit a 3 from 6 feet behind the line to start the 3rd quarter, but then Joey Martin answered right back with a 3 of his own. Hanson then finished an easy layup on the break, then Kelly took a charge on Kwiatkowski. Hanson played some tough pressure defense on Green to force a turnover, then hanson made a strong drive to get to the FT line.
Londonderry forward Brendan Enwright had 9 points and 8 rebounds, and gave the Lancers some solid minutes off the bench. He really battled inside and on the boards. He was playing hard, but Central just kept rolling. Jon Martin connected on a 3, then Hanson hit a floater, then Hanson backed down his man in the post, hitting another leaner with this being an and-1. Then Hanson made another outstanding hustle play, diving on the floor for a loose ball, not only gaining possession but knocking it over to Jon Martin who then laid it in for 2. Not only is Hanson the star player out there dropping 26 points but he's also the one diving on the floor and hustling all over the court. You love to see that.
"Brett has a lot of responsibility for us" said Coach Wheeler. "Not only does he score but he also usually has to guard the other team's top scorer."
Central now had a 52-29 lead with 40 seconds left in the 3rd quarter and were running the Lancers out of their own gym and showing why they're the best team in the state. Coach Stanton again called timeout to try and stop the bleeding. It was 52-31 Central after 3.
Jon Martin hit another floater, then made another nice dish to his brother Joey Martin for 2. Then Hanson dished it to Jon Jartin for a layup and Central had their largest lead, 59-31 with 6:11 remaining in the game and forcing Londonderry to call yet another timeout.
Hanson made a nice slash to the rim and finish, but then Londonderry finally started to heat up offensively. The Lancers scored 18 points in the game's final 6 minutes. Mac Coleman hit another 3. Londonderry's top 2 scorers on this night both came off the bench, as Coleman had 10 and Enwright had 9. Hanson hit another tough leaner and then Jake Coleman banked in a 3 from 6 feet behind the line. Central cruised from there for the 68-49 win.
Londonderry is a good team, they'll be somewhere in the top 8 by the end of the season, especially if Coveney is able to come back soon. They went up against the best team in the state while playing without possibly their best player, so the fact that they only lost by 19 is actually pretty good.
As for Central, they're just playing on a different level right now, and as long as they keep getting better it will be tough for anyone to touch them.