By: Jeremy Leveille
The 2013-2014 high school basketball season is still very young, but one thing we have already learned is that you can never count the Manchester Central Little Green out of a game. They made a furious 4th quarter comeback to beat Dover the other night, and they did it again on Friday night to beat Manchester Memorial.
Memorial lead by as many as 18 points, but Central came back to win 67-66 on day 1 of the 2014 Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament (QCIBT). It was a combination of Central giving it their all to make a resilient comeback and a huge 2nd half meltdown by Memorial. Senior wing Joey Martin scored 19 of his team-high 21 points in the 2nd half (including 3 clutch 3-pointers).
This game had one of the wildest endings in the 52 year history of the QCIBT. Memorial junior wing Malo Roumraj (14 points) was at the line for 2 free throws with 48 seconds left and his team on top 66-63. He missed both shots and then Jaylen Leroy (12 points) hit a layup for Central on the other end and it's 66-65 Memorial with 14 seconds remaining. Central fouls Memorial guard Craig Preston, who misses the front end of a 1-and-1. Central grabs the rebound, and Little Green senior guard Nathan Guillermo is fouled in the back court by Roumraj with 2.2 seconds left. Guillermo misses the front end of the 1-and-1, but leaps towards the rim, catches his own rebound and while still in mid-air he tips it in at the buzzer. Central wins 67-66 and Memorial is left standing in disbelief.
Guillermo, Leroy and Martin led the comeback for Central, but Evan MacDonald (2 clutch 3's) and Ayei Akot (9 points for a freshman who played his tail off) and Jonathin Makori (a clutch 3 late) all played vital roles in it as well. Central was a completely different team in the 2nd half than they were in the 1st. In the 1st half Memorial came out with more intensity and urgency, but in the 2nd half it was Central who wanted it more.
Memorial dominated the 1st half, led by senior guard Kabongo Ngalakulondi who scored 20 his his game-high 27 points in the 1st half. Ngalakulondi dropped 16 points in the 1st quarter alone, and it would have been 18 but he missed a slam dunk attempt. He was simply on fire in the 1st quarter, scoring the basketball in a variety of ways. He finished an and-1, then hit an 18-footer followed by a reverse layup in traffic. Then he hit a step-back jumper along the baseline followed by a tough 15-footer off the dribble with a hand right in his face. At one point it was 14-5 Memorial, and all 14 of the Crusader's points were scored by Ngalakulondi. Finally someone else scored for Memorial, as Nick Philibert drilled a 3-pointer and it was 17-5 Memorial. Then Ngalakulondi capped his sensational 1st quarter by throwing down a 2 handed slam dunk on the fast break and it was 19-5 Crusaders after 1 quarter.
Central did a better job defensively on Ngalakulondi after that, as he scored just 11 for the rest of the game after 16 in the 1st quarter. Philibert made a nice block defensively, and soon it was 23-5 Memorial (their largest lead of the game). Guillermo broke the scoring drought for Central, by grabbing a steal and racing to the rim for 2. Ngalakulondi answered with a tough bucket inside through contact but Guillermo countered with an and-1 finish. Preston hit his first of four 3's on the game, to make it 30-16 Memorial with 1:20 left in the 2nd quarter. Akot slashed to the rim for an and-1, and it was 32-19 Crusaders at halftime.
Central came out much more focused and hungry in the 2nd half. Martin started taking the game over. He blocked Ngalakulondi, hit a 3-pointer and then on the next trip down made a strong move to the bucket for 2 more. Makori hit a quick 3 off some great ball movement by Central. Just like that the Memorial lead was down to 5, 34-29. Preston hit another 3, but then Leroy answered with and and-1 finish. The Little Green were pressing full court, and really picked up their defensive intensity. Martin grabbed a steal on the press and dished it to MacDonald for a layup. Central got another quick steal, and Akot finished another and-1 (for a freshman playing on a big stage he had a heck of a game).
Preston (12 points) continued to have a strong all-around game, as he hit another 3 followed by a nice drive and dish to Roumraj for a layup. Memorial was fighting hard to keep the lead and hold off Central's comeback bid. Ngalakulondi converted a strong put-back early in the 4th quarter, but then MacDonald hit a clutch 3 off the dribble to cut the Crusaders' lead to just 3, 51-48. Preston answered right back seconds later with another 3-pointer of his own to push the lead back to 6, 54-48. After a Guillermo layup in transition the Memorial lead was just 2, 54-52. But it was Preston again hitting a big 3-pointer and the lead was back to 57-52 for Memorial. Preston really stepped up in the 2nd half, hitting some big shots with Central's defense now focused on containing Ngalakulondi. Ngalakulondi meanwhile was doing a better job in the 2nd half of finding open teammates, as he made a nice dish over to Roumraj for a layup and a 59-52 Crusaders lead with just 3:45 left in the 4th quarter.
Then the pace picked up even more, and the action was even more fast and furious as both teams raced up and down the floor trading high level baskets. Martin hit a pair of big 3's, Ngalakulondi hit a 3 of his own and Roumraj converted another layup. With only 1:29 left in regulation it was Memorial 66 Central 58. You know how the rest went by reading above - 4th quarter collapse for Memorial. The Crusaders led this game for literally 31 minutes and 59 seconds but Central gets the win.
On of the most entertaining games folks are going to see all year. A thrilling win for Central, and a heartbreaking loss for Memorial. Central advances to the QCIBT semi-finals on Saturday at 7:30 vs. Manchester West. Luckily for Memorial this game doesn't count in the standings and now they know what they need to work on in order to close out games.
Memorial was playing without Trevon Maughn and Wade Gop, both starters last season. Central was playing without point guard Oumaru Kante. It's unknown when, or even if any of them will return to the lineup.