By: Jeremy Leveille
They say it's difficult to beat the same team 3 times in 1 season - don't try telling the Lebanon High boys basketball team that. Lebanon jumped out to a quick 11-0 lead over Manchester West in the D-II semi-finals on Wednesday night and didn't look back. They went up 19-6 in the 2nd quarter and cruised to the 50-31 win. It was the third win for the Raiders over the Blue Knights this season, with the others being close wins in the QCIBT and in the regular season.
"We just stuck to our stuff, and knew that if we played defense we'd be alright" said Lebanon senior guard Austin Whaley, who tallied 11 points and 7 rebounds.
The first 2 meetings between these 2 teams were close, hard fought battles that went down to the wire - not this one. Lebanon thrives in transition, where they are able to hit the open man for 3-pointers or for easy layups. In the semi-finals tonight West had problems slowing down the Raiders' transition game.
"The bigger court helped us" said Whaley. "We're the fastest team in the state."
"I agree with that" said Lebanon junior guard Ryan Milliken, who dropped a game-high 16 points. "We knew we were faster than them. The big court helped."
Not only did Lebanon score in transition, but they also executed their half court offense effectively. The Raiders really moved the ball well in order to get quality looks at the rim, keeping the West defense off balance.
"Everyday we drill our offense" said Whaley. "We could do it in our sleep."
"Most of us play AAU basketball together" added Milliken. "So we're all pretty comfortable with it."
Another key for Lebanon, was containing the West bigs. West has 6-foot-8 Akok Akok and 6-foot-6 Keenan Caron inside, compared to the Raiders whose biggest starter is just 6-foot-2. Yet despite the size disadvantage, Lebanon out-rebounded West 36-30, outscored the Blue Knights in the paint and held Akok and Caron to just 6 points apiece.
"We rebounded really well" said Whaley. "We just tried to be physical with them."
Lebanon proved that it's not necessarily the bigger team that wins, it's the faster team. Raiders 6-foot-2 forward Jake Hansen blocked 2 shots early on, followed by a 3-pointer from the right wing by Milliken and a foul line jumper junior guard (and D-II Player of the Year) K.J. Matte. Whaley then drilled back-to-back 3's from the right wing (he was wide open on the second one) and it was 11-0 Raiders.
It wasn't until 1:36 left in the 1st quarter before West finally got on the scoreboard, as senior guard Corey Descoteaux threw a lob pass for Akok who finished inside for 2. Matt Eylander came off the bench for Lebanon, took a charge on 'D' and it was 11-4 Raiders after 1 quarter.
Milliken drained a 3-pointer early in the 2nd quarter, as West got caught underneath a screen and Milliken made them pay for it. West showed some good ball movement, getting it inside to Akok for 2. On the other end Akok blocked a shot on 'D'. Akok is only a sophomore, he blocked 4 shots and has a ton of upside.
Then it was the Raiders' 'Unsung Hero', junior guard Graham Chickering who drilled a 3-pointer of his own, from the left corner off a baseline out of bounds play. The Raiders were on top 19-6. Then Chickering (12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) made a deflection which started a fast-break. Chickering got it back and finished at the rim with his left hand on the 3-on-1 break. Then Whaley drove the lane and hit a floater over the outstretched arm of Caron.
Caron answered back on the other end by hitting an 18-footer. Lebanon was up 23-11 at halftime. Lebanon was playing in the Final Four for the 4th straight year, whereas West hadn't been to NH since 2002 - it showed.
Milliken extended the Raiders lead to 25-11 early in the 3rd quarter by making a great move with the hesitation dribble to get to the rim for 2. Mlliken is a lefty and you need to force Milliken right, otherwise he'll make you pay. Whaley took a charge on 'D'.
West was hanging around, as Descoteaux threw another lob pass to Akok, for a layup. The Lebanon lead was down to 10, 25-15. Milliken countered with a leaner from the baseline. Then teammate Greg Roberge showed good bust in the open floor, exploding to the rim for 2 in transition. That pushed the Raiders lead back to 14, 29-15 with 2:34 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Blue Knights kept fighting to get back in it. Senior guard Joe Simpson (team-high 11 points) drained a 3-pointer and on the next trip down he drove and hit a leaner, cutting the Lebanon lead to 29-20. The West fans were now coming alive! Chickering answered with a floater, but West guard Dominic Plourde banked in a leaner and it was 31-22 Raiders after 3 quarters.
There was very little drama in the 4th quarter. Matte broke his man down off the dribble and got to the rim for 2. Caron finished strong inside for West. Lebanon was still playing their tails off, even with the lead. They were crashing the offensive boards, resulting in 4 shots at the basket on 1 possession. The first shot was a missed 3 by Matte, then Akok blocked 2 shots, but then it was Chickering once again coming through, this time with a tip-in for 2 more points.
The Raiders were really passing the ball well. Chickering zipped a nice pass from up top over to Milliken for 2, and then on the fast-break Whaley made a nice bounce pass, hitting Milliken right in stride for the easy layup. They were making it look easy, as Lebanon now led 39-26 wth 5:08 left in regulation and forcing West coach Danny Bryson to call a timeout.
Milliken finished yet another fast-break bucket and then Matt put the icing on the cake with a baseline drive and strong finish at the rim, and-1. That gave the Raiders a 44-28 win with 2:40 remaining. The teams then began emptying their benches. Lebanon head coach Kieth Matte took out his son K.J. and they shared a hug on the sideline. The Raiders win it 50-31.
It will be Lebanon (21-0) vs. Portsmouth (21-0) in the finals on Saturday at UNH.