The Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament (QCIBT) is annually considered the most competitive boys basketball holiday tournament in NH. If that's the case, the Exeter Blue Hawks have to feel pretty good about their chances this season. Exeter won all three of their QCIBT games in convincing fashion, including a 30 point win over Bedford in the semi-finals and a 73-37 win over Manchester Central in the championship game on Monday night. The Blue Hawks didn't even make the D-I tournament last season, but now they are 5-0 and have to be considered one of the favorites this year.
"We have a different view on things this year" said senior captain Bryant Holmes, who dropped a game-high 19 points in the title game win over Central. "This year we're really gunning and trying to get these wins. Everything is more fluid. We have better ball movement. I have confidence in my teammates that if I drive and I'm not open they can make the shot. Everyone knows their roles, and it's all come together."
In addition to Holmes' 19 points, Exeter got 18 points from 6-foot-4 junior forward Stephen Natola and 11 from sophomore guard Cody Morissette. Morissette was named the tournament's MVP. The Blue Hawks played smart, disciplined team basketball. They hit their shots and Central was missing theirs. Central was settling for 3's and they weren't falling. The Little Green shot just 3/26 from beyond the arc.
"I don't mind those 3's if there are ball reversals or kick-outs that lead to them, but they weren't open shots" lamented Manchester Central head coach Doc Wheeler, who coached the Little Green to an undefeated championship season in 2013-2014. "We need to be more selective with the shots that we attempt. We did a poor job of executing. It was a complete meltdown."
Not only that, but Central relies almost exclusively on 3 guys (seniors Jaylen Leroy, Evan MacDonald and Jonathin Makori) to do all of the scoring. While these three are very good, the other two guys out there seldom got the ball and when they did they weren't even squaring up to the rim so they weren't a threat to score. As a result, Exeter helped off the other two guys, which made it more difficult for Leroy, MacDonald and Makori to get quality looks.
Meanwhile for Exeter, they rotated 10 kids. All of them were a threat to score and 8 of them did score. The Blue Hawks ran an effective fast break. They always looked to get out and push the ball in transition, but they never forced anything so if the break wasn't there they would run their half court sets and use patience and good ball movement to get quality looks there.
Leroy drilled a 3 right out of the gate to get Central off to a good start. After a turnaround jumper by Natola, Makori connected on a 3 and Leroy stormed to the rim for a transition layup. That gave the Little Green a quick 8-3 lead and forced Exeter head coach Jeff Holmes (Bryant Holmes' father) to c all a timeout.
However the Blue Hawks then went on a 15-0 run to give them control of the game - they didn't look back. Out of the timeout Natola hit a jumper from around the foul line. Morissette made a nifty dribble-drive move to the bucket for 2. Senior forward Colin Coute hit a turnaround jumper to give Exeter the 9-8 lead. Coute scored 2 more inside off a dish by Tim Larkin. Just seconds later the Blue Hawks got the ball right back, and this time it was Larkin finishing on the break, forcing Central to call a timeout.
Out of the timeout Morissette drained a long 3-pointer. Holmes made an explosive drive to the rim for 2, and it was 20-12 Exeter after 1 quarter of play.
Holmes made another tough drive and finish at the rim for 2 more early in the 2nd quarter. The unselfishness, smart play and good ball movement continued for Exeter, as Natola was getting overplayed out on the high-post, so he cut back door, caught the pass from Coute and finished inside for the layup. Morissette buried another 3-pointer and then Natola connected on a 3 of his own to make it a 34-18 Exeter lead with 1:20 left in the 1st half. It was 34-20 Blue Hawks at halftime.
Exeter dominated the 2nd half as well. Natola converted a put-back in transition. Then Central showed some life, with Makori finishing a tough bucket on the break, MacDonald converting a put-back of his own and Makori drawing a charge on defense.
The Blue Hawks responded, as Morissette zipped a pass ahead to Coute on the fast-break for the layup. Central players were now getting caught up bickering with officials instead of just playing the game. Meanwhile, Exeter kept extending their lead. Natola hit a 3 from the top of the key to make it 43-16 Blue Hawks with 4:00 left in the 3rd quarter. Alex Price then faked handing the ball off to a cutting teammate, then turned and took it to the rim for 2. Then Holmes drilled a step-back jumper to extend the Exeter lead to 48-26 with 1:10 left in the 3rd quarter. Makori converted a put-back, but then Price connected on a turnaround jumper from the baseline at the buzzer, and it was 50-28 Blue Hawks after 3 quarters.
Exeter continued to roll in the 4th quarter. Holmes made a hard push, creating a fast-break opportunity and finishing strong at the rim to make it 52-28 Blue Hawks. MacDonald finally connected on his first 3 of the game. Then Morissette pushed the break, leading a 2-on-1 and somehow getting a pass over to Larkin for an and-1 finish. Exeter kept pouring it on, as Holmes slashed to the rim for 2 more and then on the next trip down he hit a step-back jumper. It was 59-33 Exeter with 4:40 left in regulation. Natola hit a leaner inside to make it 65-33 Blue Hawks. Coach Holmes then pulled his starters, and his team cruised to the 73-37 win.