By: Jeremy Leveille
Saturday afternoon at UNH it was the battle of the unbeatens. Portsmouth (21-0) vs. Lebanon (21-0) for the D-II boys basketball state championship. Portsmouth played great defense and Lebanon had their worst offensive game of the season. As a result, the Clippers win it 43-29. Portsmouth is your undefeated D-II state champs.
"I'm just so happy for the kids - they deserve it" said Portsmouth head coach Jim Mulvey, who has had his team in the finals 7 times and won 3 titles in his 10 years at the helm.
Portsmouth suffered a heart-breaking last second loss in the title game last year to Bishop Brady. In 2014 they fell in the finals to Pembroke. This year the Clippers got the job done.
"Last year against Bishop Brady it was not the result we wanted" said junior point guard Shon Parham, who scored 11 points in Saturday's win. "Today we left it all out on the floor. I want to thank the guys, thanks to the coaches and to everyone who came out to support us."
Lebanon led 21-20 late in the 3rd quarter. But then Portsmouth responded with a 12-0 run to go up 32-21 with 5:34 left in the 4th quarter That run was the difference.
"It feels great, especially after the last 2 years" said junior guard Christian Peete. "We came into the huddle at the end of the 3rd quarter and said there's 8 minutes left - it's time to take it over."
That's just what they did. Sophomore guard Cody Graham (game-high 17 points) drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Clippers back on top 23-21 He was wide open, and you can't leave good shooters that open. Then Graham drove to the rim, banked in a runner and it was 25-21 Portsmouth after 3 quarters.
Portsmouth kept that momentum rolling into the 4th, as Parham buried a 3-pointer from the left wing - another wide open look from beyond the arc for the Clippers. Then Parham drove and banked in a runner. Portsmouth then got a steal, Graham took it to the rim, got fouled and hit 2 free throws. That capped the 12-0 run, and it was 32-21 Clippers with just 5:34 left in regulation. It was an 11 point deficit for Lebanon but it felt like 20 with how much the Raiders were struggling offensively.
Lebanon junior wing Graham Chickering drive and finished in traffic, followed by a pull-up 15-footer by junior guard K.J. Matte (team-high 8 points). Lebanon had cut the Portsmouth lead to 32-25, but there was only 2:03 remaining. The Raiders put on a full court press, but the Clippers threw it over the top of the press, resulting in an easy layup by Parham to make it 34-25. Graham and junior forward Joey Glynn each sunk a pair of foul shots, and Portsmouth wins it 43-29.
"They're a great defensive team" said Lebanon head coach Kieth Matte, father of his star player K.J. Matte. "It's a tough last game for our seniors. Austin (Whaley) had a great 4 year career. He led our team in charges taken. It's disappointing that we won't be able to play them again."
It was a combination of great defense by Portsmouth and poor shooting by Lebanon. K.J. Matte is the D-II Player of the Year. He's one of the best shooters in the state. But in Saturday's final he shot jut 3/20, and was 0/12 from 3-point range. The Raiders 2 of top players are junior guard Ryan Milliken and Whaley. Milliken shot 2/11 and 1/5 from beyond the arc, and Whaley shot 1/5 from the field and 0/2 from downtown. Combined, Lebanon's 'Big 3' shot just 6/36 from the floor and 1/19 from 3-point range.
"We know their sets" said Coach Mulvey. "We tried to push him (K.J. Matte) out further. As the game went on they were shooting it from further and further. It's harder to shoot from further away."
Lebanon never got into a rhythm offensively. They scored just 3 points in the 1st quarter.
"We knew K.J. is a great player" said Parham. "We tried to not let him drive on us. I covered him in the 1st half. I tried to get a hand up and contest his shots. We switched Cody on him in the 3rd quarter and that helped."
Peete, Parham, Graham and senior guard Romeo Ingram all played tough 'D' for the Clippers to shut down the Lebanon guards.
"Romeo and Shon - they contest every shot" said Peete. "They didn't get an open shot all game. It's hard to make contested shots. Hats off to Matte and Milliken - they're great players."
Portsmouth wins the D-II title and Manchester Central wins the D-I championship. Why not have Portsmouth play against Central tomorrow and have a true NH state champion? That would be a heck of a game.
Portsmouth has now ended Lebanon's season 3 years in a row. I guess you could call them the Raiders' white whale.
Another key to the win for the Clippers was slowing down the Lebanon transition game. All year the Raiders have been a team who's at their best when they get out and run, push the tempo, get some steals and turn them into fast-break points. Portsmouth didn't let that happen.
"Everyone says how they're a running team, but that's a myth" said Coach Mulvey. "They don't fast-break, they just leak guys out. We weren't going to let them do that to us"
It was a packed house at UNH on Saturday for Portsmouth vs. Lebanon. Both teams were cold offensively early on. There were turnovers and missed shots. You could definitely see some nerves early on. Lebanon was playing in their first title game since 1998. Portsmouth was playing in their seventh title game since 1998. Finally we got our first points, as Glynn finished an and-1 with 5:47 left in the 1st quarter. Ingram drove and banked in a leaner, and Peete took a charge on a drive by Chickering.
Graham hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow to make it 6-0 Clippers. Finally Lebanon got on the board, as sophomore forward Matt Eylander drove from the high post to the rim for 2, and it was 6-2 Portsmouth with 2:00 left in the opening quarter. Peete threw a lob pass to Parham, who cut back door. Parham leaped up, caught the pass and while still in mid air laid it in for 2 to make it 9-2 Clippers. It was 9-3 Portsmouth after 1.
Graham drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing early in the 2nd quarter and it was 12-4. Lebanon answered back, as Matte slashed to the rim for an and-1 finish. Raiders senior guard Greg Roberge hit a jumper off the bounce from the foul line, Milliken connected on a baseline jumper and senior forward Jake Hansen finished a layup in transition. Just like that we were all tied up 14-14. Lebanon had just gone on a 10-2 run.
Although Lebanon made that run, they were getting called for a lot of ticky tack fouls. Most of these fouls occurred when Ingram had the ball. Ingram was the smallest player on the court at 5-foot-6, so when there's the slightest contact on him it may appear as though there's more contact there. As a result the officials were calling a foul seemingly every time Ingram got the ball. Lebanon was in the bonus and Portsmouth was hitting their free throws. Graham buried a 15-footer from the right wing, and it was 17-14 Portsmouth at halftime.
Lebanon had to feel good only down 3 at the half. They only got 2 fast-break points, Matte shot 1/9 and they were only down 3. They had to figure that their guards would finally start hitting some shots in the 2nd half, but it didn't happen. Lebanon battled, and even took the lead a couple times in the 3rd quarter, though. Eylander (7 points) hit a tough shot, from the baseline over Glynn who was defending and was all over him. Then Eylander up-faked and banked in another shot over Glynn, putting the Raiders on top 18-17 with 4:25 left in the 3rd quarter. It was Lebanon's first lead of the game.
Peete drained a 3 off the catch from the left wing, turned to the PHS student section with a smile and the Clippes were back ahead 20-18. Just seconds later Milliken sunk a 3-pointer of his own off the dribble and Lebanon was back in the lead 21-20. Then Eylander took a charge on a drive by Peete. We were now finally starting to see the kind of basketball we anticipated coming in.
But that's when Portsmouth went on their 12-0 run, taking a commanding 32-21 lead and went on to win it 43-29.
Now the Clippers are moving up to Division I and have most of their team returning. The favorite next year in D-I will be Portsmouth. The favorite next year in D-II will be Lebanon.