By: Tuesday and Friday
I have been going to HS playoff games at UNH since 1974. I’ve probably seen about 100 playoff games during the last 40 years at the Lundholm Gym and The Whittemore Center. Monday night’s Central – Memorial Double OT Classic is the 2nd greatest HS playoff game I’ve seen. The only other game that trumped this one was the 2010 Title game won by Pinkerton 61 to 59 in 2 OTs over Winnacunnet when Zack Mathieu set a championship game record by scoring 37 points. The fact this game was for a title just nudges out the Memorial – Central game for me.
After the game I told Jack Quirk this classic brought back memories of the 1971 Memorial – Central state title game won in 2 OTs by the Crusaders and Mike Flanagan 64 to 58. Quirk was an assistant to Pete Poirier on that Memorial team. “This game was far superior to the 1971 game and I was right here in this gym for the 1971 game. It’s not even close.” I will definitely take Jack Quirk’s word on that. I trust him.
Memorial shot 65% in the first half, but it felt like 80% as they took a 40 to 31 lead into the break. Trevon Maughn was 9 for 11 in the first half scoring 23 points. He was halfway to James Best’s single playoff game record of 46 points set in 1984. There was a buzz in the crowd every time Maughn released a shot. It was expected to go in. The flight of every Maughn shot had a majestic air to it, like it was sprinkled by basketball God dust to ensure it nestled in the Lundholm nets safely. No matter what Central did on defense it didn’t work on Maughn. The hottest scorer in the state drew 2 fouls on Central’s Hanson in the first 4 minutes of the game. Next up defensively for Maughn was Mike Plentzas. He had no success either.
At halftime there was a distinct “Hoosiers” feeling to the game. Fans were wondering if Maughn and Memorial could keep this up against the undefeated #1 seed. You had to wonder what Doc Wheeler and his coaching staff were doing for adjustments defensively for Memorial in the 2nd half.
Trevon Maughn started the 3rd quarter right where he left off. He hit a 3 to give Memorial its biggest lead at 48 to 36. With 4:25 left in the 3rd Maughn hit an off the charts 3 from about 30 feet to give Memorial a 51 to 40 lead. It was a breathless shot….. Yes, Virginia, there is a Trevon Maughn. The crowd and Virginia believed and sensed at this point an upset for the ages could possibly happen. The next 4:25 had a flurry of activity. 2 Maughn FTs, a Joe Martin 3, a Jon Martin floater, Maughn picks up his 4th foul on a charge, a Hanson 3, a Joe Martin 3 that tied the game at 53, a Kabongo hoop, a Jon Martin runner, a Joe Martin 3 and then a Jon Martin 12 footer at the buzzer to give Central a 60 – 55 lead and momentum heading into the 4th. This was an exciting stretch of basketball. It was fast paced and extremely well played.
You might notice I mentioned the name Martin in the above paragraph a bit. Back in September I received a call from one of MY PEOPLE informing me he had just seen the Martin Brothers for Central in a Fall league game against Merrimack. My person told me these brothers just transferred from Florida and they are the REAL DEAL. Not only did he think Central would be a Top 4 team with the Sunshine Brothers, but my guy said they will give Trinity a serious run for the title. Joe Martin came through big time in this game for Central. The Little Green was floundering on offense in the 3rd quarter. Memorial was ready to push their lead up over 15 points. The younger Martin hit some huge shots in the 3rd quarter to get Central back in this game.
With 7:20 left in the 4th Hanson hit a floater to make it 62 to 57 Central. A Jon Martin 15 foot baseline jumper made it 64 to 57. Now, Central was looking like the Central team everyone thought they were going to be at UNH. With 6:22 left Maughn picked up his 5th foul on a push on an inbounds play for Memorial. Even the biggest of Cinderella fans had to resign themselves to this might be the end of the road for the underdog Crusaders. Central maintained a somewhat of a comfortable 7 to 10 point lead over the next 3 minutes. When Joe Martin hit a 3 with 3:35 left Central was in control and up 72 to 62. The light core basketball fans started leaving UNH.
As 10 to 30 fans at a time started to leave UNH with about 3 minutes to go I said to myself, “Geez there’s a lot of time left.” With 1:46 left a Joe Martin put back made it 76 to 68. Another pack of fans got out of the bleachers to be “the smart ones in the Parking lot.” Kabongo hits 2 FTs with 1:09 left to make it 76 to 70. With 59 seconds left Memorial steals the ball off their press and Kabongo lays it in and is fouled by Hanson. It’s his 5th foul !! Kabongo makes the And 1 FT and now it’s 76 to 73. “How are all those smart fans doing heading towards the Lee traffic circle towards Manchester now?”
Martin hits a couple of FTs with 50 seconds – Central 78 to 73. A Kabongo put back with 28 seconds – 78 to 75. Jon Martin misses a FT, Memorial rebounds the ball with 23 seconds left, but Jon Havlicek Martin steals the ball and is fouled. Martin hits 2 FTs – 80 to 75. Wade Gopp hits a runner with 11 seconds left to make it 80 to 77. Memorial steals the Central inbound pass and the ball is kicked out to Kabongo at the top of the key. Kabongo swishes a 3 pointer with 3 seconds left. The remaining crowd goes bonkers. We are tied at 80 heading into overtime !!. How are those early birds doing that are driving on Rte 125 thinking this game was over?
Some of the alleged “smart” fans started COMING BACK into the gym from the parking lot. Those must have been nice texts they received apprising them of the Memorial comeback: OMG git ur arse back in here. It’s in OT.
The first OT was a battle of attrition for both teams. Legs seemed to be getting tired. Emotions were frayed. This game was for the taking for either team. It was a nip and tuck 4 minutes. The Martin Brothers took over the scoring for the Little Green. Kabongo and Roumraj led Memorial. With 40 seconds left in the 1st OT Malo Roumraj rebounds his own miss and puts it back in to give Memorial an 85 to 84 lead. It is breath taking. A Jon Martin layup gives Central an 86 to 85 lead. 2 Jon Martin FTs give Central an 88 to 85 lead with 23 seconds left. Memorial has a frantic possession and with 10 seconds left 5’11 Memorial sophomore Nick Philibert is left open in the corner by Central. He lofts a 3 point attempt and swishes it…… The Basketball Gods drop some more dust…… We are tied at 88 heading into the 2nd OT. Those “really smart” basketball fans that left with 2 to 3 minutes left in regulation are now “comfortably” on Rte 101.
This game had now become transcendent and religious. This was the way a playoff game should be. We were floating on Little Green and Crusader basketball air.
Central just had too much for Memorial in the 2nd OT. Malo Roumraj picked up his 5th foul with 2:53 left and Central up 90 – 89. This took the wind out of the Crusader sails. From this point on it was the Martin Brothers and Tyler Kelley helping Central go on a 9 to 2 run to close out the game and send Central to the title game. The teams lined up to shake hands as all the early bird leaving fans were just pulling into their driveways in the Queen City.
I was able to catch the exhausted Coach Quirk in the runway at UNH. We talked for some time about the game. “My players never quit. They left everything on the floor. Central is the best defensive team in the state and we scored 91 points on them. “ Doc came up the stairs from the Central locker room and exchanged pleasant words with Quirk. What a sight to see these 2 coaches who worked their coaching asses off for 40 minutes of basketball reflect upon the game for the ages. The 2 coaches parted ways and Jack started making his way down the runway, stopped and came back to me and said, “I just want you to know these kids do listen to me. I know a lot is written about how they don’t care and they don’t listen to me, but they do. They listened to me and they believed in themselves and believed in themselves as a team, which is why we had our nice playoff run.”
With those words Jack continued down the runway to exit UNH. This great Central – Memorial game, the coaches and the night were now filed in my memory file cabinet under F as in Forever.