The Nashua High North boys basketball team is the hottest team in D-I. With their 73-54 win on Tuesday night over Merrimack, the Titans have now won 9 straight games - no other team in D-I has an active win streak of more than 2.
North was led by their 'Big 3' of junior guard Ronnie Silva (team-high 22 points, including six 3-pointers), sophomore wing Alonzo Linton (21 points) and senior wing Nathan Hale (18) points.
North only led Merrimack by four points at halftime, but they broke it open in the 2nd half, leading by as many as 21 in the 3rd quarter (65-44) and by 22 in the 4th (73-52).
"We're all just locked in" said Silva, who is only about 5-foot-8, but plays much bigger. "For us it's defense first. We also share the basketball."
North was just too fast for Merrimack to keep up with. They play at such a fast pace, it's like watching a team from Massachusetts. Most teams from NH can't play at this fast of a pace. North pressures the heck out of teams defensively, and when they get the ball they immediately look to run. They can grab a defensive board and turn it into a layup or a 3-pointer on the other end in the blink of an eye. It's a fun style of basketball to watch.
"It starts with defense" said Hale. "Then we the rebound, get it to the outlet and go. Coach Lane has told us to play that way since I was a freshman."
It was senior night for the Merrimack Tomahawks. Prior to the game they honored their seniors Zak Kerr, Ian Roberts, Mike Dudash, Noah Beygelman, Jake Giannelli, Chad Seaver and Andrew Wojciak.
Not only was it senior night, but both teams had their student sections out in full force. It was a packed house, everyone was loud - it was an electric atmosphere. But once the game got started North established itself as the better basketball team. Linton drove and kicked it out to Silva who hit his first of six 3-pointers on the evening. Silva showed good shooting form and a very quick release.
Junior wing forward Dan McKillop (6 points) made a strong take and finish for the Tomahawks, followed by a =n 18-footer off the catch by Dudash (7 points). That's when the Titans really starting runnin' and gunnin'. Hale faced up from the perimeter, put the ball on the floor, the defense collapsed but he still managed to banked in a tough leaner for 2. After a layup by Kerr, North answered right back with a 3-pointer by Linton followed quickly by a transition layup by Linton. Again, these baskets by the Titans happen in the blink of an eye - they're that quick and tenacious. That made it 16-8 North with 1:34 left in the 1st quarter and forced Merrimack head coach Tim Goodridge to call a timeout. The Titans led 17-9 after 1 quarter.
Roberts showed some good hustle in the paint, converting a put-back early in the 2nd quarter. Dudash took a charge on a drive by North senior wing forward Sam McCarthy. It was an easy call for the officials to make, as McCarthy lowered his head and barreled into Dudash.
Again, North started running. Hale converted a put-back on the break. Kerr answered back on the other end by draining a 3-pointer, but the Titans looked to run the break off the made basket. In the blink of an eye they got it ahead to Hale for the and-1 finish in transition. North was just too quick! Meanwhile, junior forward Levi Gosselin made a nice block on 'D', followed by another 3-pointer from the right corner by Silva. That gave the Titans a 25-13 lead. Gosselin made another nice block, and then ripped down a strong rebound.
Merrimack slowed the game down, clawed their way back in it, and closed the 1st half on an 8-0 run. Kerr (game-high 24 points) sunk another 3 ball, this time from the right wing. It was 25-21 North at halftime.
Roberts made a strong finish inside early in the 3rd quarter. Again North ran a fast-break off an opponent's made basket, this time getting it ahead to Linton for a layup in the blink of an eye. Only mere seconds later the Titans were running yet another fast-break, this time getting it to Hale who took it to the rim before hitting a tough bank shot leaner. To say that getting back on defense is a key to beating North would be a huge understatement.
North sophomore guard Sclyler Boykin made a nice hustle play to save a loose ball, keep the possession alive for the Titans and dish it to McCarthy for a layup. North quickly got the ball back, and again scored on a lightning quick fast-break, with Linton taking it to the rim for a dipsy-do finish. Merrimack again called timeout, as the Titans now led 33-23 with 5:49 left in the 3rd quarter.
Kerr hit a 3-pointer off the catch, but North quickly pushed the ball back up the floor, as Hale drained a 3 of his own to answer back. Just seconds later the Titans were pushing the ball again, with Silva connecting on another 3 to make it 43-26 North. Kerr continued to have a strong game to help try and keep the Tomahawks in it, as the 6-foot-1 shooting guard buried another 3, this one from the left wing. But again, anytime Merrimack hit a big shot North would answer right back - the Titans never let them go on a run - Silva came right back with a quick drive and lefty finish.
The game continued to be played at a feverishly fast pace. Beygelman came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer from the right wing off the catch. Silva used a crossover dribble to free himself up for a 3-pointer from the top of the key to answer back. Merrimack sophomore guard Ian Cummings connected on a 3 of his own and Kerr converted a strong and-1 finish to get the Tomahawks within 8, 49-41 with 1:15 left in the 3rd quarter. The Titans alley-oop attempt on the break with the lob pass intended for Linton was no good, but it still nearly brought the house down and got everyone buzzing. North led 51-41 after 3 quarters.
The Titans put this game on ice in the 4th quarter. Linton hit a long jumper (from just inside the 3-point line) off a drive and kick-out by Hale. On the other end McCarthy stepped in and took a charge on McKillop. Silva again used a nifty dribble drive move to free himself up for a 3-pointer, making it 56-51 North. Dudash was trying to keep Merrimack in it, as he knifed his way to the rim for a transition layup.
Silva buried yet another 3-pointer off the catch - his sixth of the game from downtown.
"I got in the gym and worked hard in the off-season" said Silva. "I know that I'm not tall, so I have to get my shot off quick."
Linton again finished on the break for yet another lightning fast transition bucket for North. That made it 65-44 Titans. Kerr responded with his fifth 3-pointer of the contest. His team didn't win, but Kerr had a heck of a game on senior night.
North's student section was rockin', even though the game was played at Merrimack. Hale slammed down a one-handed jam on yet another fast-break for North that happened in the blink of an eye. Silva drove to the rim for another quick bucket. North just kept on runnin' and gunnin', getting out in transition and throwing up another lob pass for Linton. This time he finished it for an and-1. That gave the Titans their largest lead, 73-51 with just 1:40 left in the 4th quarter. McCarthy was working hard inside for rebounds. North cruised from there to the 73-54 win.
Merrimack is now 11-6. They finish up the regular season Friday night vs. Pinkerton.
North ends the regular season with a 15-3 record, clinching a top four seed. They'll be the team to beat heading into the D-I tournament, especially if they can get to UNH with that big floor it will be even tougher for opposing teams to keep up with their speed.