By: Jeremy Leveille
In a hard fought, evenly matched game with lots of shifts in momentum, Salem came away with a 59-55 overtime win at home vs. Nashua South on Monday night. South was up 38-33 after 3 quarters, but Salem outscored them 19-14 in the 4th quarter, and the Blue Devils went on a 6-0 run to begin OT.
Salem was led by 6-foot-3 junior wing Griffin Curtis (team-high 21 points), senior 6-foot-5 forward Matt Vartanian (15 points and junior guard DJ Coletti (13 points). They also got strong defense from Connor Greenfield and clutch free throws from Jake Bosworth. Curtis missed the first half of the season with a foot injury, but he had a breakout game tonight vs. South. The Blue Devils are a different team now that he's back healthy and playing well. In a wide open Division I, Salem could be a team nobody wants to play come March.
"The Merrimack game on Friday night was his first full game" said Salem head coach Rob McLaughlin. "He's a tough match-up. He can shoot or take it inside. It's nice to have him back."
South just beat Londonderry in overtime last Monday, and now they were back playing another OT game tonight. The Purple Panthers may have had the best player on the floor in 6-foot-1 junior guard DJ Frechette, but Salem had the better team. Frechette poured in a game-high 25 points, but was held in check during the 4th quarter and OT by Greenfield. Plus, nobody else on South had more than 10 points.
South was up 38-33 after 3 quarters, but Curtis drained a 3 off the catch from the left wing just seconds into the 4th quarter to cut the South lead to 38-36. The Purple Panthers countered, as junior point guard Kevin Genao (10 points) drove from the left wing, drew a second defender and then made a great dish inside to junior forward Max Osgood for the layup.
Salem senior forward Tim Dodier got the ball inside and made a good move in the paint for 2. On the other end Frechette drove and banked in a runner. Just seconds later Coletti connected on a 3-pointer off the catch, cutting the Purple Panthers' lead to 44-43. Vartanian took it inside for 2, tying it up 45-45 with 3:45 remaining. On the next trip down the court it was Vartanian again scoring, this time with a nice up-and-under move for the layup and we were again tied up 47-47.
Frechette came down the court and drilled a 3, putting South back on top 50-47 with 2:20 left in regulation. That's when Curtis really took over. He took it inside for 2. Then on the next trip down the floor Curtis drove to the rim for an and-1 finish, giving the Blue Devils their first lead of the 4th quarter 52-50 with 1:15 left. South answered right back, as Genao drove and flipped in a nifty reverse lay-in finish in traffic to tie it back up 52-52 with 55 seconds to play in regulation.
Salem held for the last shot. South played tough defense to deny Salem from being able to get the ball inside. The only look they were able to get was a 3-point attempt by Coletti (which isn't a bad look since he hit three 3's in the 2nd half). But this time Coletti's shot rimmed out, the buzzer sounded and we were headed to overtime.
"Scoring first in overtime is key, I just wanted us to score first" said Coach McLaughlin.
Well, not only did Salem score first - they scored the first 6 points of overtime. It was defense that got things started in the extra period though, as Curtis made a nice blocked shot. Then Curtis made a good take inside, finishing for 2 more to make it 54-52 Blue Devils with 1:37 left in OT. With his team trailing by 2 with 30 seconds left, Frechette attempted a 3-pointer but it was no good. South was no forced to foul, and Bosworth buried four consecutive free throws to make it 58-52.
It was seemingly all over, but Frechette was not ready to give up. He hit a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner, cutting the Blue Devils' lead to 58-55 with 10 seconds left in the extra period. But then Bosworth added another foul shot, Frechette's 3-pointer attempt in the closing seconds was no good, and Salem wins it 59-55.
"We moved Bosworth to point guard, mainly for defensive reasons" explained Coach McLaughlin. "He's been playing his tail off. Also, Greenfield did a great job defensively on Frechete."
Coletti opened the contest by hitting a baseline jumper from 18-feet off the catch. Teammate Matt Soldano hustled inside to convert a put-back. Genao made a nice play defensively - he got beat off the dribble by Bosworth, but recovered and blocked Bosworth's shot from behind. Soon after that Bosworth made a nice pass to Vartanian for a layup off a baseline out of bounds play. Genao picked up his 2nd foul early on, with 5:23 left in the 1st quarter and had to leave the game. His 2nd foul was a ticky tack hand check call though - let em' play!
After going scoreless for the first five and a half minutes of the game, South finally got on the board as Frechette drilled a step-back jumper from 18-feet after Salem had jumped out to the early 7-0 lead.
Then came one of the biggest calls of the game. Frechette made a nice steal near mid-court, took it to the rim and slammed down a 2-handed jam. He hung on the rim though, and was whistled for a technical foul. Vartanian goes to the line and hits both of the technical free throws. Now this was a poor call by the official. Typically in that situation yes, you get a technical for hanging on the rim for that long. However in this case there was a Salem player right below the basket. Frechette wasn't hanging on the rim to showboat, he was doing it because otherwise he would have kicked the Salem kid in the head - it was a matter of safety. If he didn't hang on the rim someone could have gotten hurt. He shouldn't have gotten t'd up. And if he didn't get t'd up then South probably wins this game in regulation.
To Frechette's credit, he didn't let that technical call get him rattled - he just kept playing. And when play resumed, he hustled back on defense to block a shot. Then teammate Ronald Martin blocked a shot, starting a fast-break which resulted in a put-back in transition by junior forward Rohan Patel to cap an 8-2 run by the Purple Panthers. Coletti drove into the lane and flipped it in at the buzzer, and it was 11-8 Salem after 1 quarter.
Genao showed good speed with the basketball in transition, getting to the rim for 2 early in the 2nd quarter. The pace was picking up, as South continued to look to run. Purple Panthers senior wing Zavier Williams made a layup on the break, capping a 6-0 run by South as we were now tied up 14-14. Salem was forced to call a timeout.
South made it an 8-0 run and a 16-14 lead as Williams hit a pair of FTs. Vartanian made a nice weak side block. Patel made back-to-back strong post moves and finishes. Curtis answered back with a reverse layup in traffic. Then Bosworth nailed a pair of FTs and the Blue Devils were back ahead 21-20. Frechette made a steal at 3/4 court, pushing it hard to the rim, making a spin move to evade a defender before finishing the layup. It was 24-21 South at halftime.
The teams continued to battle each other in the 3rd quarter. Soldano made a nice block on 'D'. Frechette banked in a leaner. Coletti answered on the other end with a 3 from the left wing. Vartanian drove from the high post all the way to the rim for 2. Then Vartanian took the ball from 3/4 court all the way to the rim, but Frechette hustled back on defense and swatted the shot away. Salem retains possession though, and Coletti drains another 3. That caps an 8-2 run by the Blue Devils, who re-take the lead 29-26.
South counters, getting the ball inside to Osgood who hits a leaning hook shot over Vartanian. Then Frechette makes another nice defensive play, knocking the ball away from Coletti and over to Genao, who passed the ball ahead on the break to Frechette, who then slammed down a dunk (but this time didn't hang on the rim). South goes back on top 30-29. Genao makes a nifty finish in transition, Osgood finishes strong inside again, and it's 38-33 Purple Panthers after 3 quarters.
Salem improves to 4-7 with the win, while South falls to 6-4.