Friday, December 30, 2016

Lebanon Runs Away With QCIBT Ship

The Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament (QCIBT) is annually the deepest, most competitive holiday tournament in New Hampshire. But for the second year in a row, one team has stood high above the rest in the tourney's field. In 2015 it was Exeter, who won all three of their games by 28+ points, including a beating of eventual D-I state champs Manchester Central 73-37.

2016 is Lebanon's year. The D-II school from way up north in the Upper Valley beat three D-I teams in four days, including a 60-38 thrashing of Trinity in the final on Friday night at Manchester Memorial High School.

Even more impressive was that Lebanon did it without their best player - senior point guard and reigning D-II Player of the Year K.J. Matte has been sidelined for three weeks with a broken foot. Yet the Raiders still don't miss a beat, showing they're much more than a one man team.

"It was awesome to see everyone step up without K.J., especially here since Mr. Matte said it's the best Christmas tournament in the state" said Graham Chickering, a senior guard who scored 16 points to go with 6 assists and 3 blocks in the final and was named tournament MVP. "We knew that if we came out here with focus, slipped out on screens and closed out on our gaps we'd be alright."

Leading the way for Lebanon was Chickering, senior guard Ryan Milliken (14 points, 5 assists, 4 steals) and junior forward Christopher Nulty (13 points). Chickering and Milliken in particular showed great chemistry together, always knowing where the other was on the court, looking for each other and setting up each other for baskets.

"Me and Ryan have been best friends since 7th grade" said Chickering. "This is our sixth year playing together."

"Me and Graham are like brothers" said Milliken.

Nulty moved to Lebanon over the off-season, from Hartford, VT. He got the Raiders off to a strong start in the final, scoring 10 points in the 1st quarter, including a pair of 3's as Lebanon jumped out to a quick 15-4 lead.

"We have a new kid this year Chris Nulty" said Milliken. "He plays AAU with us."

Not only has the core of Lebanon's team been playing together for six years, they've been playing on the same AAU team as well - the Longhorns. Plus they play in summer and fall leagues together. Having so much continuity as a team is a big reason for their success.

"We run the same offense in AAU as we do in high school" said Milliken. "We're able to read each other well, all of us know where each other is on the court, we're all unselfish. We don't force any shots, everything comes in the flow of the offense. We play very good defense too."

It's no wonder why Lebanon is the hands down favorite to win the D-II title this season. If they're this good without Matte, it's scary to think how good they'll be when he returns from injury.

"We know this tournament there's a lot of D-I teams, there's Manchester teams" said Milliken. "We wanted to prove to everyone that we can play with the D-I teams - just like Portsmouth."

The outcome of Friday night's title game was never really in doubt. Simnon Berry hit a 15-footer for Trinity, but Nulty answered right back with a good drive and spin move to the rim for 2. Nulty then drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Milliken hit a pul-up jumper from the foul line and it was 7-2 Raiders (a 7-0 Lebanon run).

Chickering dished it to senior guard Paul Slabinski in transition for a layup, forcing Trinity head coach Matt Lemieux to call a timeout. Lebanon just kept adding to their lead though, as Chickering made a nifty dribble-drive move to the rim, got fouled and made 1/2 FT. Nulty drilled another 3, this one from the left corner off a good kick-out by Milliken and it was 15-4 Raiders. Milliken made a nice pass to Chickering for a layup, and it was 17-6 Lebanon after 1 quarter. You can definitely tell this group has been playing together for a long time!

"Our focus is really good, I'm pleased with the way the kids played" said Lebanon head coach Kieth Matte, the father of K.J. "Ryan is developing as a leader, he's becoming a defensive stopper, he's taking on more of the offensive load with K.J. out."

Lebanon kept on firing on all cylinders in the 2nd quarter, going on a quick 8-0 run to start the frame. Chickering connected on a 3-pointer off the catch from the left wing. Milliken buried a 3 of his own, from the right wing. Milliken capped the run with a fast-break layup to make it 25-6 Lebanon.

Trinity was really struggling to hit shots. Lebanon was doing a nice job on 'D' of denying the Pioneers' dribble-drive into the paint. This forced Trinity to take outside shots. They started the game off shooting 0/9 from 3-point range. Finally the Pioneers made one, as sophomore guard Wil Spencer drilled a 3 off the catch from the right wing.

Trinity's continued to get their shooting back on track. Sophomore guard Jordan Santos (team-high 11 points) used a crossover dribble to free himself up for a jumper from the elbow. Chickering made a layup off a good dish by Nulty. Then Trinity junior guard Zach Dagan drained a 3 from the right side which got the Trinity fans coming alive.

Lebanon kept moving the ball well on offense, resulting in another layup, this one by Nulty. Santos buried a 3 for Trinity, but Chickering countered on the other end with a 3 from the left wing for Lebanon. Milliken made a steal in the backcourt, finished the layup and it was 34-17 Raiders at halftime.

More good ball movement by Lebanon in the 3rd quarter. Chickering with a good look, finding junior forward Matt Eylander for the layup. Then Chickering made yet another nice pass, this time showing a quick first step off the dribble to drive the lane and draw the defense, before dishing it to the open man Eylander for another layup. Then Chickering made a nice block on defense. This team is fun to watch!

For Trinity, Spencer drove, made a spin move into the lane and hit a tough leaner. Milliken showed his signature move that he's been doing for 3 years now at the varsity level, taking the ball in transition, kicking it into a higher gear of speed, putting his head down and racing all the way to the basket for a layup, leaving the entire defense in the dust. Anytime he does it, the opposing team's fans are left saying to to each other, "Wow, that kid is fast!" Even more impressive was that on this particular play, Milliken finished not only through contact (should have been an and-1), but he finished with his right hand (Milliken is a lefty). Also a standout on the football field for Lebanon, Milliken is easily one of the top two-sport athletes in the NHIAA.

Trinity sophomore guard Ethan Frenette hit a 3, but the Raiders answered back with a another 3 of their own, by Hunter Bienvenu, who hit a wide open 3 from the left corner to make it 44-24 Lebanon. Santos made a strong take and finish. Chickering made yet another good pass, this time finding Noah Didehbani for a layup. Berry converted a put-back for the Pioneers, and it was 46-28 Raiders after 3 quarters.

Early in the 4th quarter, Milliken pushed the ball hard in transition once again, like a blur. This time he dished it to his friend Chickering for yet another Lebanon layup #layupline

Milliken pulled up on a dime and hit a jumper from the elbow. Santos countered on the other end for Trinity, slashing through the defense before finishing in traffic. Chickering hit another 3, this one from the left wing. Even when they take 3's early in a possession, it still comes in the flow of the offense and is not forced. That shot made it 54-32 Lebanon with 4:00 left in regulation. The teams then started to empty their benches to get the subs in. The Raiders cruise to the 60-38 win and their first QCIBT championship.

Of all the schools in the NHIAA, none made a louder statement than Lebanon during the 2016 holiday tournament season. Not only did the Raiders boys basketball team beat three D-I teams to win the QCIBT title, but their girls team also showed that they can play with anyone in the state. Bedford has the best girls team in the state right now, and Lebanon took them to overtime before falling in a nail-biter in the girls QCIBT.

You have to give credit to both Kieth Matte and Lebanon girls coach Tim Kehoe. Both have built D-II programs that consistently are as good, if not better than the teams in D-I. Both programs have great feeder systems, which allow them to always have new kids coming up through the ranks who are good. Matte and Kehoe run the feeder programs, they help run AAU programs in Lebanon and they both work in the school district.

Kehoe had the pleasure of coaching his daughter Emily Kehoe to a state championship, in 2013. Emily was an all-state player on that team, it was her senior year and Lebanon went undefeated. Barring a major upset, the same thing will happen this season on the boys side with Kieth Matte coaching his son K.J. during his senior year.

"We feel like we have a true program here" said Coach Matte. "We run a system where all the kids come up running the same plays. We're hard to guard. They play together in the summer and in AAU. I'm lucky to be in a community that supports basketball. The parents show good support. On a cold winter day up in Lebanon, there's nothing else to do other than get in a gym and play basketball."

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Jeremy. You were right....before the tournament you said there aren't a lot of great teams in the state because of Prep but said Lebanon was deep. They are a really good team...you can tell they play together in AAU etc and that definitely makes them the favorite in D II and if they were in D I I think they'd be a favorite! See you out there this year!!!

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