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Raiders Line Them Up and Hold Off Hanover

Lebanon — Every day at practice, as his Lebanon High boys basketball teammates take a water break, junior Nic Shepherd heads in the other direction.

He heads for the nearest free-throw line. He takes foul shots. He won’t go to the H2O until he makes at least two.

“It’s just something I do,” he said.

Practice makes for a perfect finish. Shepherd scored seven of his team-high 11 points in the fourth quarter — featuring 5-for-6 shooting at the line — as the Raiders outlasted Hanover, 39-31, at Lang Metcalf Gym.

“It’s just something I do; Coach didn’t tell me to do it,” Shepherd said after the victory, which gave Lebanon (9-3 league, 10-4 overall) a sweep of the season series with the Marauders (3-8, 5-8). “It’s just something I feel is real important. Tonight, it came down to the line.

“You gotta make ’em. They’re free.”

The Raiders are still retooling their approach in response to the loss of senior Mat Cowles for personal reasons last month. Cowles gave short-of-stature Lebanon its one body capable of playing inside against bigger opponents, which in the Raiders’ case has been everyone on their schedule.

Without an inside presence, Lebanon coach Kieth Matte had his players playing soft zone pressure at midcourt and trapping the man with the ball frequently last night. The Raiders also have had to rebound as a group, and did so.

Although Hanover ended up with a 31-27 edge on the glass (27-16 in the second half), the Marauders couldn’t turn the advantage into second-chance points. And when it mattered most — after two Cyrus Rothwell-Ferraris free throws gave Hanover its first lead, 25-24, with 5:09 to play — Lebanon played its rival even on the boards.

Shepherd completed a double-double by snagging 10 rebounds for the hosts.

“Make your free throws down the stretch, don’t give them any easy looks and come up with a couple of big plays,” Matte said. “I think that’s what you just saw.”

The Marauders have had more close shaves than a chainsaw juggler this winter. Their eight losses have come by a combined 36 points. If just two possessions a game could prove more fruitful, Hanover’s record would look a whole lot better.

Still, senior Ryan O’Rourke made the difficult possible by bottling Lebanon 1,000-point scorer David Hampton like a genie. For 31 minutes, Hampton had no presence on the scoreboard and very little impact in any other facet of the contest.

O’Rourke stuck to Hampton every time the ball crossed the center line. He ran beside Hampton on the dribble. He saw Lebanon’s screen attempts and worked his way around or through them. Without Hampton, a 20-points-per-game threat who was held to a season-low five points, the Raiders would have to find a different route to victory.

“The thing about Ryan is he’s excellent about locking down offensive players. … He’s really good,” Hanover coach Tim Winslow said in a post-game phone interview. “If we just need to shut down one kid and we’ll really work hard on that kid, Ryan is the guy we go to.

“He knows a little bit about David” — the two are AAU teammates — “but I would also say that’s part of Ryan’s game. When we need somebody, a guard, to lock down another player, Ryan is our guy.”

Lebanon still has its guy, however, and is working to develop a few more.

Five foul shots — four from Shepherd, one from Vinnie Guerin — gave hosts a 29-26 lead with 3:46 to play. Hanover answered with a mini-burst, using a Noah Huizenga elbow jumper, a back-door basket from Liam Gantrish (game-high 14 points) fed perfectly by O’Rourke and two more Rothwell-Ferraris foul shots for a 31-29 advantage with 2:19 on the clock.

The Marauders forced a turnover, but Rothwell-Ferraris missed a 3-pointer and Huizenga couldn’t convert the follow. O’Rourke then let up on his Hampton hounding for the first time all night, leaving the Lebanon guard enough room to bury a left-wing trifecta with 1:02 remaining to put the Raiders ahead to stay.

“David will not let his team lose,” Winslow said. “He wasn’t going to let his team lose to Hanover in his gym. We played him great, and he kept at it the whole game. He scored five of the last (10) points. That’s kind of the difference.”

Shepherd cut off a cross-court Hanover pass for an uncontested layup 20 seconds later for the Raiders’ final basket. Shepherd, Hampton and Dominick Morrill (eight points) then closed out the win by converting five foul shots in the waning seconds.

Hampton averaged 21.6 points a night in Lebanon’s first 11 contests; the Raiders’ last three foes — Pembroke, Coe-Brown and the Marauders — have limited him to fewer than seven. Because of that, Lebanon needs others to step forward. Shepherd’s turn came last night.

“I told myself to stay calm,” the junior said. “We can do it if we stay calm.”

Not to mention appropriately hydrated.

Free Throws: Neither squad had a particularly memorable night from the floor, with Lebanon shooting 27.5 percent (11-for-40) and Hanover clocking in at 24.4 percent (11-for-45). … The teams combined to commit 34 fouls. The Marauders lost both Rothwell-Ferraris and Rocco Linehan to foul-outs in the fourth quarter. … Lebanon senior Moriah Morton sang the national anthem. She returns to LHS tonight with the Raiders girls basketball team, needing 10 points to reach 1,000 in her career in a 6:30 p.m. contest with Hanover. … Both boys teams are on the road Friday, with Lebanon visiting Goffstown and Hanover traveling to Souhegan.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.