The biggest thing we learned in the Manchester West vs. Trinity quarterfinal game at the QCIBT on Friday night was this - you need to try and slow the game down, if you let West turn it into a track meet you will lose. The Blue Knights are just too fast. With players like Monytung Maker, Zach Jones, Prince Gbaley and Jacobee Burpee racing up and down the court they have possibly more speed and athleticism than any other team in the state.
"New Hampshire teams, whether it's D-I or D-II - no one can run with us" said Maker, who dropped a game-high 22 points, including 2 highlight reel dunks and 11 rebounds.
West picked up their defensive intensity, using their press to force a ton of Trinity turnovers. The Blue Knights moved the ball well, converting those turnovers into quick buckets on the other end.
"In practice we've been working a lot on defense, it's our main key" Maker explained. "I play a lot of AAU so I could already score, but now I've been working more on my defense. Defense and pushing the ball. Coach has also been drilling into us to make the extra pass."
West only led 12-11 after 1 and 26-21 at halftime, but the 3rd quarter is when they really broke it open. Trinity began the 3rd as the sharper team, as Connor Walsh (game-high 24 points) hit a 3 and Luke Testa (17 points) finished an and-1 off a nicely executed set play in the half court. Then West senior guard Corey Descoteaux was called for a technical foul, and the Blue Knight's lead was down to 33-31 with 2:45 left in the 3rd quarter.
Now usually technical fouls are a momentum swinger. Usually the team that gets called for the T starts to unravel afterwards and the other team goes on a run. Well the opposite happened in this case - West got the T and West went on a run. Jones got things started on the defensive end with a nice block. Then West really started to speed up the tempo, as Maker attacked the rim and converted 3 quick finishes inside. The Blue Knights' pressure defense continued to give Trinity problems, as the Pioneers were whistled for a 10 second violation. West used their press to force 2 more turnovers which they turned into quick layups, one by Gbaley and one by Burpee. West ends the 3rd quarter on an 11-0 run, and they lead 44-31 headed to the 4th quarter.
The Blue Knights run continued into the 4th, as Jones (16 points) finished a layup and it was 46-31 West (a 13-0 run). Burpee connected on a 3-pointer from the corner as West continued to roll. Justin Trickett finally got the Pioneers back on track with a strong and-1 finish. Testa played tough on the ball defense, forcing a loose ball and then making a great hustle play to dive on the floor for the ball and knock it over to a teammate. Walsh then hit a 3 and just like that Trinity was right back in the game, only trailing 49-43 with 3:28 left in the 4th quarter.
"Me and Walsh is a good match up" said Maker. He is a tough match up because he goes around all those screens."
Testa hit a 3 off a kick-out by Walsh, as Trinity continued to hang around, now trailing 53-46 with 2:30 remaining in regulation. But then West took control of the game back, as they got back out on the fast break and got the ball ahead to their athletes who can finish. Maker threw down a pair of thunderous 2-handed jams in transition to get the crowd into it.
"We were up a little, and I wanted to have a splash to close the game" Maker said with a smile. "I wanted to break the rim, and almost did it."
West kept pushing the tempo, as Burpee converted another layup (9 points off the bench) and Keenan Caron made a nice block on 'D'. The Blue Knights pulled their starters, leading 63-50. Walsh his another 3 in the closing moments and West wins 63-53.
It was a fairly even game early on. Walsh made a strong drive and finish in traffic and Testa made a good take and finish as well. Then Maker caught the ball in the high post, faced up on his defender (Walsh), took him off the dribble, got to the rim for a strong finish. Then Maker hit a baseline leaner for an and-1. Burpee gave West some good energy off the bench, converting a put-back to put the Blue Knights up 9-7 with 2:50 left in the 1st quarter. Caron made a nice block and then Jones hit a 3, and it was 12-7 West. Walsh answered right back with a 3 of his own and it was 12-11 Blue Knights after 1.
Gbaley also brought energy off the bench, blowing by his man with a nice dribble-drive move and finish early in the 2nd quarter. West was starting to pick up their defensive intensity and Trinity was starting to turn it over. Gbaley stepped in and drew a charge on Walsh, and Caron finished strong inside followed by a blocked shot on the other end. It was 26-21 Blue Knights at halftime.
If West keeps playing this, they will be a contender this season in D-II. They take on Central in the semi-finals of the QCIBT on Satyurday night at 7:30.