By: Jeremy Leveille
Exeter battled, they scrapped and they clawed. They played great and have nothing to hang their heads about. They were only down by 5 at halftime, but in the 2nd half Central was just too good and too fast. Led by Brett Hanson (35 points) and the Martin brothers from Florida, Jon (23 points) and Joey (18 points) the Little Green broke the game open by scoring a whopping 25 points in the 3rd quarter, going on a 12-2 run to go up 60-43. Central led by double digits throughout the 4th, and went on to win 82-61 in a game was closer than the final score indicates.
Hanson and the Martin brothers have been a force all season, and that was no different on Friday night. All 3 of them attack the rim, can hit shots from all over the floor and pass the ball well. Exeter fought hard, and was able to hang with Central for a while. But once Central's 'Big 3' get on a roll it is tough to stop them.
"Once we get hitting shots and sharing the ball it all becomes easier" said Hanson, who is one of the favorites for D-I Player of the Year. "We turned our defense into offense, then we just get rolling from there. They fought hard and were physical. In the 1st half they were making a lot of shots."
With the win, Central advances to the D-I Semi-finals where they will take on #12 seed Manchester Memorial in a Queen City clash. The other semi-final will be #2 seed Trinity vs. #3 Merrimack. So you have 3 Manchester teams, and the other school is right next to Manchester. I guess we know where the balance of power in NH basketball is right now. And with players like Hanson, Joey Martin, Wenyen Gabriel, Luke Testa, Trevon Maughn and Kabongo Ngalakulondi all being only juniors it looks like it will stay that way.
Back to the Central / Exeter game. So it was only a 5 point game, 38-33 at halftime. Then what happened? Well Jon Martin hit a 3 and Hanson slashed to the rim for 2. Then Hanson hit a 3-pointer to make it 46-35. That was a key stretch in the game right there, as the momentum had definitely swung in Central's favor. The 3-pointers that Martin and Hanson hit were wide open, and to hang with Central you need to close out better on their 'Big 3'.
Exeter sophomore guard Bryant Holmes answered with a 3 to get the lead back in single digits at 46-38. Central answered back, as Jon Martin made a great no-look pass to his brother Joey for a layup. Holmes countered with another 3 ball, his third of the game to cut the lead to 48-41.
That's when Central went on their 12-2 run. Central is an extremely fast, explosive team who can put up points in bunches. That's exactly what they did here, as all 12 of those points during this run came in the blink of an eye. Joey Martin scored most of the points during the run, as he scored 16 of his 18 points in the 2nd half. Martin drilled a 3-pointer literally 4 seconds after olmes hit his, then he had 2 strong finishes in transition, Mike Plentzas took a charge and Dawson Dickson also hit a 3. Just like that it was 60-43 Central with 1:10 left in the 3rd. Exeter wing Jordan Dickenson buried a 3 just before the buzzer, and it was 63-48 Little Green after 3.
"We're a team that always fights hard until the end" said Exeter senior point guard Zach Holler. "They're good, though. They hit like 20 threes."
In the 4th quarter Joey Martin made another layup to push the lead to 67-52, then Central forward Tyler Kelley drew a charge. Exeter kept battling though, cutting the lead back down to 11, 67-56 after Matt Vigars zipped a pass to Max Medley on the break for a layup with 415 left in regulation. But after another 3 by Jon Martin the lead grew to 72-56. Soon the lead was 76-56, and then Medley fouled out. Central cruised from there for the 82-62 win.
Exeter came out sharp in the 1st quarter. They were big underdogs in this game but they played fearlessly and did not back down. Medley (team-high 16 points) scored 2 quick buckets inside to put the Blue Hawks up 4-0. Exeter came out in a 2-3 zone, and Central struggled to score on it early. Hanson hit a pull-up jumper to tie it up, 4-4. Central showed a glimpse of their quick-strike offense, as they ran a fast break and in the blink of an eye Jon Martin scored a layup to make it 6-4 Little Green.
"Our 2-3 zone threw them off" said Holler. "It was something they hadn't seen before."
Holmes then hit a spot-up 3-pointer to give Exeter a 9-6 lead. Central again scored in the blink of an eye, inbounding the ball and literally 3 seconds later Hanson hit a scoop shot inside. Then Central got out on the break again, with Hanson pushing the ball hard up the floor and hitting a floater in the lane. Hanson is a deadly finisher, both in the half court and in transition. Right after that Hanson tipped in his own missed shot to put Central back on top 12-11, and that was the score after 1 quarter.
"Exeter's very good" said Manchester Central head coach Doc Wheeler. "Their zone was very effective and it slowed us down. They have some good athletes, they're tall, physical and are tough off the dribble. I told the team before the game that quarterfinal games aren't easy and to not expect to just go up by 10-15 points in the 1st quarter. You need to grind it out."
Exeter regained the lead in the 2nd quarter after a hard earned put-back by Vigars (10 points). But then Hanson continued to put on a show. The 6-foot-2 guard connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, as Central took an 18-13 lead. Soon after that Hanson hit yet another 3 - he was on fire! Hanson scored 23 of his game-high 35 points in the 1st half. That's even more impressive considering he sat the final 3 minutes of the half with 2 fouls.
The Blue Hawks fought back, as Medley scored 2 points inside, then blocked a shot on the other end which started a fast break for Exeter headed back the other way. Vigars finished the break with a smooth finger roll, and the Central lead was cut to 21-19. Central answered back though with another 3 by Jon Martin, and it was 24-19 with 4:25 left in the 2nd quarter.
Hanson then hit a tough leaner along the baseline to make it 28-23. Jon Martin made a nice high-low pass to Joey Martin for a layup. Then with hanson on the bench Jon Martin started to heat up offensively, scoring inside and out. Exeter was hanging tough, though, as Holler (12 points), Medley and Joe Scheidler all scored to keep them in it.
"We're a team that always gives it out all" said Medley, who was also a standout football player at Exeter. "We knew we gave them a good fight and so do they."