By: Jeremy Leveille
Both the boys and girls basketball teams from Lebanon High are primed to make a run to the Final Four next month. The girls team is 13-3, and the boys team improved to a perfect 14-0 with a 76-29 pounding of defending D-II champs Bishop Brady on Friday night.
KJ Matte (15 points), Ryan Milliken (15 points), Austin Whaley (12 points) and Greg Roberge (10 points) all scored in double figures for the Raiders. Matte and Milliken each hit a pair of 3-pointers in the 1st quarter, with Matte's second one coming from four feet behind the line and with just two seconds left in the quarter. It was 22-4 Lebanon after one.
Brady is the defending champs, they return 2 starters including Player of the Year candidate Joe Bell, and they were 11-3 coming in. This game should have been closer, right? Wrong. Lebanon is just that good. It's them and Portsmouth in D-II, then everyone else.
"We knew we were going to win this game" said Matte, a D-II Player of the Year candidate who went on an unofficial visit to UNH. "I know we thought we were better. They lost some guys from their team last year and we've had another year playing together, plus other guys like (Graham) Chickering have stepped up."
Lebanon went on a 20-0 run, as it went from a 9-4 lead to a 29-4 advantage. The Raiders were hitting on all cylinders, getting steals or defensive rebounds, getting out in transition and turning them into quick buckets on the other end. They were attacking the basket, moving the ball well and hitting shots from the outside. The Raiders led 40-11 at halftime, 64-20 after 3 and cruised to the 76-29 win.
"We wanted to send a message, but be respectful" said Matte, a 6-foot junior point guard. "I think we did that."
Before the game Bishop Brady honored their seniors, including Bell. Bell is a four-year starter, he recently scored his 1,000th career point. He scored the winning basket in last year's D-II final win over Portsmouth and next year will continue his playing career at Trinity College.
In this game though, he was held to just 5 points, as Lebanon keyed on him. The Raiders forced Bell to take contested shots and when he penetrated the lane the Lebanon defense collapsed on him.
Brady got out and ran the break early, with Josh LeClaire dishing it inside to Bryce Johnson for a bank shot. Lebanon got a steal and pushed it on the break, with Whaley zipping a pass over to Milliken for an and-1 finish. Bell drained an 18-footer off the bounce, but after that is when the Raiders went on a 20-0 run. Matte drilled a step-back 3-pointer. Then Matte showed that he's just as good at setting his teammates up for buckets as he is at scoring - he drove and dished it to a cutting Jake Hansen (8 points) for a layup.
Milliken kept the run going by connecting on back-to-back 3's - one from the top of the key and one from the left wing. Just seconds later The Raiders got a steal with their intense pressure defense and Roberge took it hard to the rim for the layup. It was 19-4 Lebanon with 43.5 seconds left in the 1st quarter, forcing Bishop Brady head coach Cole Etten to call a timeout. Then Matte hit another 3, and it was 22-4 after 1 quarter. Brady would have been able to get some more points on the board in the 1st quarter, but they missed a lot of makeable shots inside.
The Lebanon run continued in the 2nd quarter. Hansen made a good take and strong finish at the rim. Milliken hit his third 3-pointer of the game. Then the Raiders got a defensive rebound and looked to run, quickly getting it ahead to Whaley for the layup to make it 29-4 Lebanon with 5:49 left in the 1st half. Matte drained his third 3-pointer of the contest, from the left wing off a good drive and kick-out by Chickering to make it 34-5 Raiders. Meanwhile, Brady continued to have cold shooting and was also making unforced turnovers.
Finally the Giants notched a couple of baskets in a row, as Bell buried a fadeaway jumper from 18-feet followed by reverse layup in transition by Johnson. Matte hit another 3, this time from the left corner. Brady showed some good ball movement, getting it inside to Matt Desmarais for a layup. But then Matte did it again, sinking his fifth 3-pointer of the evening, this time from the right corner.
Lebanon was on fire shooting the basketball, as Matte hit five 3's and Milliken hit three 3's - in the 1st half alone. Matte and Milliken can make a pretty good case for being the best backcourt in the NHIAA - and both are only juniors.
Lebanon continued to run Brady out of their own gym in the 3rd quarter. Whaley opened the 2nd half with a personal 6-2 run. He converted a put-back, then on the next trip down he slashed to the rim for 2 more before making a strong drive along the baseline for the layup - it was too easy. The Raiders were now on top 46-13.
Lebanon kept pushing the tempo, with Milliken showing his blazing speed in transition en route to a fast-break layup. The Raiders again got out and ran, with Whaley leading a 2-on-1 break and then making a behind the back pass to Chickering for the layup. Lebanon then began pulling their starters, leading 50-16 midway through the 3rd quarter. Matt Eylander drained a 3, Milliken drilled a pull-up jumper on the break from 18-feet, Nathan Gradijan hit a 3 of his own and then on a 2-on-1 break Milliken dished it to Roberge for a layup. It was 64-20 Lebanon after 3 quarters.
The starters for both teams sat for the vast majority of the 4th quarter. The Raiders extended their lead to 74-26 on a 3-pointer by Roberge, and they cruised from there to the 76-29 win.
It's too bad Lebanon and Portsmouth don't play each other during the regular season. Guess we'll just have to wait until UNH to see that match-up.
"I think we can win it" said Matte, son of Lebanon High head coach Kieth Matte.
Portsmouth knocked off Lebanon in last year's D-II semi-finals, before falling in the title game to Bishop Brady on the buzzer-beating layup by Joe Bell.
How will these season end? Only time will tell. In 2013 the Lebanon High girls basketball team had an undefeated championship season, with their head coach (Tim Kehoe) coaching his daughter and star player (Emily Kehoe) to the title. Lebanon could have a similar result this year with their boys team and the Matte family.