In a hard fought, back and forth battle between 2 evenly matched teams, Trinity outlasted Salem in overtime 54-52. There was more controversial calls than any game I've seen in awhile, including a back court call on Trinity, a timeout call for Salem which looked like a jump ball, a tough travel call on Salem big man Matt Vartanian, a touch foul on Salem 80 feet from the basket, a carry on Trinity which wasn't called and a pair of very generous continuation calls (one for each team).
"You just have to stay the course and keep playing" said Trinity first-year head coach Matt Lemieux. "Luckily we did that."
Stay the course and keep on playing is exactly what Trinity junior Connor Walsh did. Walsh is one of the team's leading scorers, but through 4 quarters he had just 8 points on 2/10 shooting. Walsh kept his head up though, showed perseverance and hit the 2 biggest shots of the game in OT. First he drove on the left side and banked in a runner to put the Pioneers on top and then on the next trip down buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 53-48.
"He's been cold shooting, so it was big for him to hit those two" said Coach Lemieux.
"We've got a lot more weapons than people think we have" said Walsh, who finished with 13 points. "Justin Trickett has improved a lot, plus Luke Testa and Keanyon Lambert. They can score and set screens for me. I was clutch, what can I say" Walsh said with a smile."
Playing well in defeat for Salem was 6-foot-5 junior forward, who dropped a game-high 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.
Trinity led 31-26 at halftime, as Testa scored 9 of his team-high 14 points in the 1st half and Lambert scored 9 of his 11 points in the 1st half. Trinity had at least 6 offensive rebounds in the 1st half, with most of them by Lambert which turned into layups.
"I told Keanyon he's going to have to get us 6-8 points on offensive boards per game" said Coach Lemieux. "He did well with it tonight and also in the Merrimack game."
Testa slashed to the rim for an athletic finish to extend the Trinity lead to 33-26 early in the 3rd quarter (the largest lead either team had all game). Salem fought back though, and after a 3-pointer by junior wing Jared Gott they cut the Pioners' lead to 34-33. Lambert converted another easy put-back, and then Trinity got another offensive board. This one was by senior forward Ryan Boldwin, who went up strong with the shot attempt, got fouled and made 1 of 2 FTs.
Salem answered, as Vartanian crashed the offensive glass, grabbed the rebound and kicked it out to senior wing Danny Nugent who buried a 3 from the left wing off the catch. That tied it up 38-38, and that was the score as we headed to the 4th quarter.
Gott (11 points) hit another 3 early in the 4th quarter to put Salem ahead 41-38 (their first lead since 19-18 in 2nd quarter). Then teammate Zach Farah took a charge. Few kids player harder and with more toughness than Farrah. Then Vartanian made a strong move to the rim for an and-1 finish (a generous continuation call). That put the Blue Devils up 44-38 midway through the 4th quarter.
Trinity fought back, pushing the tempo which resulted in quick transition layups for Walsh and Trickett to cut the Salem lead to 44-42 and forcing Blue Devils coach Rob McLaughlin to call timeout. Gott stepped in and drew a charge on Testa. Then Testa redeems himself, hitting a pull-up jumper from the foul line to cut Trinity back on top 48-46. The Pioneers get whistled for a foul, sending Nugent to the line for 2 BIG free throws. He calmly and confidently drained both shots and were were tied up 48-48 with 20 seconds left in regulation.
Trinity moved the ball around the perimeter, looking for a shot. They couldn't find a look, and called timeout with 4.8 seconds remaining. The inbounds pass went to Walsh, who had the ball knocked away by Salem sophomore guard DJ Coletti. Walsh stole the ball back, and attempted a 3-pointer at the buzzer from 2 feet behind the arc. The shot clanked off the rim and we were headed to overtime, tied 48-48.
A minute into the OT period Walsh banked in a runner and the drilled a huge 3-pointer to make it 53-48 Trinity. Salem refused to go away though, as Gott connected on a pair of free throws, then the Blue Devils got the ball back and Gott quickly pushed it in transition before dishing it to Farah for a layup. Trinity was now clinging to a 53-53 lead with 2:00 left in OT.
Salem ball, still trailing 53-52 with 56 seconds left in the extra session. They quickly turn it over though and then have to foul Trinity. Pioneers senior wing Nick Capobianco makes 1 of 2 FTs and it's 54-52 Trinity with 17.2 seconds left in OT. Salem gets a good look at a 3, but Coletti's shot goes in and out. Farah grabbed the offensive rebound and with time running out he dishes it back out to Coletti, who front rims a shot from 12 feet as the buzzer sounds. Trinity hangs on for the 54-52 win in OT.
"We're not as experience as we have been in years past" said Walsh. "But we're 3-3 now, we're gonna get better everyday and we're gonna shock some teams."
Lambert was strong on the offensive boards early. He converted a put-back, followed by a strong move inside for 2 by Vartanian before Lambert finished another put-back. Vartanian finished strong inside again. Walsh made a steal at 3/4 court, pushed it up the floor before making a spin move into the lane for a lefty and-1 finish. Lambert and Walsh made easy layups without much defense there and it was 11-8 Trinity early.
Testa finished an and-1 (generous continuation call) and then Farah drew a charge on Walsh. It was 16-12 Trinity after 1 quarter - a quarter which for the most part was played in the half court, with both teams playing tough man-to-man defense.
Salem quickly tied it up 16-16 in the 2nd quarter, as Nused used a nice double up-fake move for a score and then the Blue Devils got a quick steal which resulted in an easy layup for Coletti. Farah made a great hustle play, sprinting back on defense to deflect a pass which would have resulted in a fast-break layup for Trinity. After making the deflection, Farah then hustled over to try and save the ball ball from going out of bounds. Farah does all the little things teams need to win games.
Vartanian continued working hard underneath, using a strong second effort for an and-1 finish. That gave Salem their first lead, 19-18. Trickett answered right back, hitting a 3 to put the Pioneers back ahead. Testa finished through contact to make it 23-21 Trinity, but then Salem ran a fast-break off a made basket, resulting in a layup by Coletti and a 23-23 tie.
Lambert made a good interior pass to junior wing James Santos, who converted the layup for a 26-23 Pioneers' advantage. Gott hit his first 3 of the game to tie it right back up, 26-26. Trinity scored 5 quick points to end the 1st half though, as senior guard Vincent Ndahayo grabbed a steal and got it quickly ahead to Lambert for a layup. Santos drilled a 3-pointer off the catch from the left wing, and Trinity went into halftime up 31-26.