For the past 2 seasons, Manchester Central High has been the team to beat in NHIAA boys basketball. They won the D-I title in 2014 with an undefeated season and won 38 games in a row - until now. Londonderry led by as many as 16 and won by 13, 74-61 to end Central's streak. The Little Green had a great run to win 38 in a row, but the Lancers were the better basketball team on Friday night and right now they are the best team in Division I.
"It was all about defense" said Londonderry senior captain Cody Ball, who dropped 18 points while also playing lock down defense on Central star wing Joey Martin. "They're great at moving without the ball and setting back screens. We knew we would have to step up on 'D' and everyone did tonight."
Both teams are guard oriented, they like to push the ball and run at every opportunity, hoist up 3's and pressure the heck out of people in half court man defense. Both teams hit 10 3's - it was definitely a run-and-gun shootout. It was hyped up as a match up of the 2 best teams in D-I and after watching the game it's hard to argue with that.
More than any other team in the state, Central has a knack for at any time exploding for a 14 or 15 point run in the blink of an eye. That's how they usually beat teams. You need to be on your game for the full 32 minutes to have a chance against them. If you let up even for just 1 minute, that's the minute where they'll score 11 points in a row. But Londonderry never let them get going. Anytime Central got a few quick buckets the Lancers were matching them shot for shot.
"It's not too often you play a team with a 38 game win streak" said senior wing Marc Corey, who poured in a game-high 22 points to go with 9 rebounds and a toughness which doesn't show up in the stat sheet but was key in the victory. "We know they can get get hot, and once they do it's hard to stop."
Central had won 38 in a row and Martin started all 38 of them. The 6-foot-3 senior sharpshooter is now 38-1 since moving to NH from Florida. That's an impressive stat. This was Londonderry's night, though - it was the program's biggest win in a LONG time.
"We're trying to change the culture to a basketball program" said Londonderry head coach Nate Stanton, in his 2nd year at the helm. "All of the kids have bought in."
Both teams came out in tight, in-your-face, half court man defense. Central put sophomore wing David Baraka on Ball, and Ball was covering Martin. Right away the teams start putting up 3's. Corey banked in a 3 off the dribble from the left wing from 3 feet behind the line. It looked like he may have forced that shot but he got it to fall. Central answered right back, as junior wing Evan MacDonald (12 points) connected on a 3 off a drive and kick by senior point guard Oumaru Kante. Central set up a full court press following the made basket, but Londonderry broke the press for a layup, as sophomore forward Brandon Radford converted the layup. The Little Green raced back up the floor to try and answer back, but Kante was called for a charge, as Lancers junior guard Nathen Gaw stepped in to take it.
Jonathin Makori hustled to grab an offensive rebound, brought it out beyond the arc and nailed his first 3 of the game. It was Central's fourth offensive rebound of the game and we were only a few minutes in. Following that shot, Central got a quick steal in the back court with their press and Martin made the layup as the Little Green took an 8-7 lead with 2:53 left in the 1st quarter.
Radford went to the bucket and Central junior wing Jaylen Leroy was called for a foul. Radford made 1 of 2 FTs, but it looked like a clean block by Leroy. Londonderry was starting to show some nerves - for the third time in the 1st quarter they got the ball to someone up under the basket without scoring. 2 dropped passes that went out of bounds and 1 missed layup. The Lancers got it together though and reeled off 5 quick points in a row to end the 1st quarter. The Lancers picked up a loose ball and got it ahead to Ball, who went to the basket, elevating above the rim and throwing down an emphatic 2 handed dunk.
The dunk by Ball may have been the turning point in the game, the play that swung momentum over to the Lancers and really got them fired up. As a result of their rally late in the 1st quarter they led 12-8 after 1 - they kept the lead for the rest of the game.
"It was when Cody dunked that I got even more hyped up" said Corey, who has emerged this season as one of the state's top players. "I saw their team getting down on each other too. With our team we don't do that - if you mess up we move on."
Ball kept the momentum on Londonderry's side, hitting a step-back 3 early in the 2nd quarter to make it 15-8 LHS. Corey hustled back and made a nice defensive play, knocking the ball out of Leroy's hands as he went up to prevent a transition layup. Martin knifed his way to the bucket for 2, and after Central got another steal in the back court with their press Kante hit a 3 to cap a 6-0 run and cut the Lancers' lead to 15-14.
Londonderry countered with a quick 7-0 run of their own. 6-foot-2 senior Joey Kwiatkowski hit a 3, sophomore guard Jake Coleman glided in for a bank shot leaner on the break and Radford made a strong take in transition. In the blink of an eye it went from a 1 point LHS lead to 22-14.
he teams continued to fire away from beyond the arc. MacDonald hit his second 3 of the game. Kante pushed it hard up the floor, got into the lane and hit a nice floater. Corey came around a screen, freeing himself up for a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Makori answered right back for Central with his second 3 ball of the contest, showing a very quick release. Londonderry looked to run off a made made basket, getting it ahead to forward Ben Stoller for an and-1 (looked like he may have shuffled his feet for a travel though).
Londonderry pushed their lead back up to 7 on a baseline 15-footer by Corey, but MacDonald countered by hitting his third 3 of the game just seconds later. The Lancers raced right back up the floor, with Coleman driving into the lane and hitting a tough lefty floater. Then the Lancers held for the last shot, running some clock and then getting it to Ball who drove baseline for a reverse layup. It was 33-25 LHS at halftime.
Londonderry extended their lead to double digits for the first time, as Corey drilled a 3 from the top of the key to start the 2nd half. Then Corey took the ball inside, showed good patience, using an up-fake followed by up-and-under before hitting an and-1 leaner on Leroy who was playing tough defense. A great move and finish by Corey, making it 39-25 Lancers with 5:50 left in the 3rd quarter. Central kept firing away, as MacDonald connected on his fourth 3 of the game on the other end of the floor.
'Calm and Cool Coleman' drove to the rim with a defender on his hip and once a second defender came in to help he made a nice dish down to Radford for the layup. It was now 43-28 Lancers with 4:40 left in the 3rd quarter, forcing Manchester Central head coach Doc Wheeler to call a timeout.
Martin made a good pass on the break to Leroy (11 points, all in 2nd half) for a transition layup. Then Ball really started to heat up, hitting a 3 off the bounce. He had a hand in his face but was able to elevate above the defender and hit the shot, his first of three 3's in the 3rd quarter. That made it 46-30 Londonderry - their largest lead of the game.On the other end Makori hit a 3 from the left corner, and just seconds later Ball drilled another 3. On the other end it was Makori again hitting from downtown.
Coleman drove and kicked it out to Gaw for a long 2, and then Coleman sailed in for a smooth leaner on a 2-on-1 break. Central was fighting to stay in it, as Kante slashed through the defense for an athletic finish. Ball hit his third 3 of the quarter from the right wing. Martin cleaned up the offensive glass for a tip-in. Londonderry closed out the quarter by grabbing a steal in the back court, Ball drove and dished it to Kwiatkowski (11 points) for the layup. It was 58-43 Lancers after 3.
"It was our defense - getting stops and running our break" said Coach Stanton. "We were talking, playing help side 'D', contesting shots and limiting them to one shot."
Central's winning streak was now in serious jeopardy. Still, with their ability to strike at anytime and go on a run, you know Londonderry wasn't comfortable with the lead yet. Especially since Leroy started the 4th quarter off with an and-1 to cut the deficit to 58-46. Then came a crucial part of the game, as Kwiatkowski buried a pair of 3-pointers, the first off a drive and kick by Ball from the left corner and the second one from the right corner. Just like that it was a 64-48 lead for the Lancers with 6:31 left in regulation and forcing Coach Wheeler to call another timeout.
"We had been playing pretty good all game but that turned it around and gave us momentum" said Kwiatkowski. "We knew it was going to be a good game with a playoff atmosphere."
Not only was Kwiatkowski hitting big shots but he was also hustling all over the court and diving on the floor for loose balls. Ball, Corey and Coleman get a lot of the hype, but you certainly can't forget about Kwiatkowski either.
Central was battling to hang in there, and they were able to cut the lead back down to 12 as Kante got a steal and then pushed it hard up the floor, got it to Leroy for a transition layup and then just seconds later the Little Green got the ball back and Leroy converted another layup on the break. That cut the lead to 64-52 with 5:13 remaining, forcing Coach Stanton to call timeout.
Kante (team-high 17 points) connected on a 3 off the catch from the left corner, cutting the Londonderry lead to 70-61 with 1:50 left to play. It was the first time central was within single digits since the opening seconds of the 3rd quarter. Unfortunately it was too little too late, as Central went scoreless the rest of the way. Coleman scored an easy layup off a sideline out of bounds play, making it 72-61 Lancers with 1 minute left. Londonderry dribbled out the clock for the last 30 seconds and held on for the 74-61 win.
"Me, Cody, Marc as seniors and also Jake - all of us are back from last year" said Kwiatkowski. "Over the summer we got together and decided we wanted to get to UNH. We played in 2 summer leagues and 2 fall leagues."
Central shot just 11/22 from the free throw line on Friday night. With the victory, Londonderry made a statement that they're the team to beat in D-I. As for Central, you can bet they are hoping to see the Lancers again in the tournament to try and get revenge.