In the first boys semi-final game in the Capital Area Holiday Tournament it was Concord (Division I) vs. Merrimack Valley (Division II). Overall it was a fairly even match up, with the exception of one thing - rebounding. MV out-rebounded Concord 32-18. Much of that damage was thanks to MV's inside duo of 6-foot-6 Bruce Barton and 6-foot-5 Justin Williams (both are seniors. Concord couldn't match up with them, as they combined for 17 rebounds (Barton had a whopping 6 offensive boards).
As a result, the Pride earned a hard fought win, 55-47. The duo of Barton and Williams was tough inside, and senior guard Cole Remillard poured in a game-high 18 points and 6 rebounds.
"We need to box out better" lamented Concord head coach John Finnegan.
Coach Finnegan also pointed out that his squad is playing without senior Walter Szulc, who broke his leg during football season.
"He's a 20 point per game guy" said Coach Finnegan. He was tearing up the summer leagues for us. I don't think he'll come back and play for us this season."
Without Szulc in the lineup Concord now starts 2 sophomore in the back court, has another sophomore playing key minutes off the bench and only 2 seniors in the rotation. Still, the Crimson Tide battled hard all game and after a layup by junior forward Mario Lita they were all tied up with MV, 34-34 early in the 4th quarter. But MV scored a whopping 21 points in the 4th quarter, outscoring Concord 21-13 the rest of the way.
Williams showed good hustle, deflecting a pass on 'D' and then converting an and-1 on offense. Remillard slashed to the rim for an and-1 of his own, and it was 43-39 MV with 2:10 left in the 4th quarter. Williams scored inside again, increasing the MV lead to 47-40.
Give Concord credit for never giving up. Matthew Giroux (team-high 17 points) and Thomas Bengston (14 points) both hit 3-pointers late to keep the Crimson Tide alive. But the Pride were able to make enough of their free throws late, and held on for the 55-47 win.
It was an even game throughout the first 3 quarters, with neither team leading by more than 5 until the 4th quarter. Bengston had a strong start, hitting a tough baseline floater and then went hard to the rim for a transition layup. Both teams had good size, as they both had multiple kids in the starting lineup who were 6-foot-5 or bigger. Williams converted a strong put-back, but Concord answered as sophomore Reid Ljungholm made a nice pass to junior Jack Annon for a layup. Barton finished a put-back in traffic, Giroux hit a 3 and MV led 12-10 after 1 quarter.
Bengston continued to show a quick first step off the dribble, again slashing to the rim for a tough bucket. Hudson Aldrich came off the bench for MV and hit a 15-footer followed by a layup. Williams made a nice block on 'D'. Giroux found junior Jack Hicks for a nice pass that led to a layup and tied it up 16-16 with 2:20 left in the 2nd quarter.
Williams made another nice weak side block. Giroux put Concord ahead 19-18 with an and-1 finish on a 2-on-1 fast break. Nate Mulleavey answered right back for MV with a 3-pointer from the left wing off the catch and it was 21-20 Pride at halftime.
It was more even basketball in the 3rd quarter, as points continued to be hard to come by. Giroux hit another 3 though, this one off a skip pass from the right wing. That tied it up 23-23.MV went back on top 30-25 on another strong finish by Williams. Sophomore guard Tol Mugunga answered right back for the Crimson Tide with a 3-pointer of his own. Remillard made a good slash to the rim for 2, but a put-back by Lita cut the MV lead to 32-30. Williams again crashed the offensive boards, tipping in a miss for 2 on the fast break and it was 34-32 Pride after 3 quarters.
MV looks solid, they'll be a top 8 team in D-II. MV advances to the tourney title game on Monday night vs. Bishop Brady. Concord may struggle in D-I but is also capable to pulling an upset or two over some of the division's better teams.