Lebanon Boys Spread the Scoring, Reap the Benefits
Kalin Sou makes his approach to shoot after breaking away from his Lebanon High School teammates during practice Wednesday, January 29, 2014. The Raiders are the highest scoring squad in the Upper Valley, but have no standout scorer. Purchase photo reprints »
John Cioffredi, 18, shoots from the foul line to close practice with the Raiders at Lebanon High School Wednesday, January 29, 2014. The Raiders are the highest scoring squad in the Upper Valley, but have no standout scorer.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — Longtime Lebanon High girls basketball coach Tim Kehoe is on hiatus this year while assisting his ill brother, Ed, but that doesn’t mean his patented, press-and-run system isn’t being put to good use at the school.
It’s the boys team’s turn, and opponents are feeling the effects.
With Kehoe serving as a voluntary, part-time assistant to Raiders boys coach Kieth Matte, Lebanon has been running roughshod to the tune of a 9-3 overall record (8-2 NHIAA Division II), both five-year bests. The Raiders’ 69.2 points per game leads both D-II and all Upper Valley programs.
The production has been spread far and wide, with six players averaging at least 7.1 ppg, but none higher than shooting guard Kolin Sau’s 11.7.
It’s a result of Lebanon having plenty of scoring ability and, perhaps more importantly, players who can run. Matte’s squad has been executing pressure defense to set up the fast break, a first in his 17 seasons since taking over for the legendary Lang Metcalf in 1998.
“Never before,” Matte said when asked about the scheme. “It’s a page out of (Kehoe’s) book. It’s just a good group of kids to do it with.”
An up-tempo method intended to force turnovers and open offensive lanes, Kehoe’s girls teams used it to be a perennial contender for more than 20 years and win four state titles, including an unbeaten run last season.
With limited size and no dominant scorer after the graduation of 1,000-point ace David Hampton (now playing at St. Lawrence University), the Raiders are trying what worked so well for so long for their female counterparts. So far, the results have been as enjoyable as they have been successful.
“We knew we had kids who could score (coming into the season), we just didn’t know we’d be having so much fun doing it,” Matte said. “It’s unique for us to be leading the division in scoring and it’s because the guys have all been willing to play fast.
“We’re just not the kind of team this year that’s going to try to pack it in and win those 52-45 type games. We don’t have a guy who’s 6-foot-8 that we can throw it to underneath and we don’t have a guy like David Hampton, who can score from anywhere from the floor. David was our Superman, and we miss David, but we have a lot of guys who have been waiting for the opportunity to contribute more and they’re doing a good job.”
Lebanon has started nine players this year and, at times, has gotten nearly as much production from its bench as its starters. Freshman KJ Matte (10.8 ppg) and senior Martin Gradijan (7.7) rotate at point guard, with Sou primarily manning the other backcourt spot. Sophomore Austin Whaley (6.1 ppg) can sub in at any position and broke through with a 20-point night in the Raiders’ 79-49 win at Souhegan on Jan. 13.
Dom Morrill (9.9 ppg) and Nic Shepherd (8.5) rotate at one forward spot, while Austin Pelletier (7.1) and Gage Young (3.8) do the other. Young also splits time with John Cioffredi (4.6) at center.
“It makes us hard to prepare for,” Matte said, “when not only do we not have the same lineup every night, but also have nine guys that have similar skills that we can have out there every night. If you key in on one of our guards, Austin Whaley is a pretty good scorer and he’s going to get freed up. If you take away one of our forwards, someone like Austin Pelletier is going to step up and get points for us. We have a lot of guys who work hard and are unselfish.”
Morrill, one of a pair of returning full-time starters from last year’s 17-6 team, nearly didn’t play this season. After sustaining head and wrist injuries during the fall, Morrill considered joining a nuclear power technology program administered by the U.S. Navy, a commitment that would have wiped out his basketball season, but ultimately decided he couldn’t walk away from his favorite game.
“I was trying to think of the future more than the present, but basketball has always been my favorite sport,” he said. “This might be the last year I can play and I had to be here for it.”
Morrill started slowly, netting just 2.6 ppg through the first five games. He’s come on with a vengeance lately, sporting a 15.1 average over the last five, including a career-best 26-point night in the Raiders’ 84-80, double-overtime loss at Bishop Brady on Jan. 17, one of just two league losses Lebanon has suffered this season.
Shepherd, Lebanon’s tallest player at 6-3, is averaging 8.5 per game, but is in the midst of serving a three-game suspension for violating a school rule. Shepherd will return after tonight’s game at Goffstown.
Matte isn’t the only one pleased with the way the Raiders have been able to spread things around. The players love it, too.
“We’ve got seven seniors with a lot of experience, a lot of good guys coming off the bench and we’re pushing the ball really well,” said Sou, a co-captain with Young. “It’s a lot better when you have a lot of guys who can score as opposed to one or two.”
Young is also enjoying Lebanon’s newfound run-and-gun scheme, but knows the team will also have to play physically in upcoming rematches with Bishop Brady and Pembroke. The Raiders’ only home loss this year came in an opening-night come-from-behind effort by the Spartans, the defending D-II champs.
“We have to play more physical against the bigger teams, but we’re not afraid to do that,” Young said.
After making it to the semifinals last season, Young doesn’t see why Lebanon this year can’t reach its first state final since winning it all in Matte’s first season in ’98.
“I definitely think we can go all the way and win it,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for and that’s what we’re working for. We’re always working towards those bigger games, so we’re ready when we get there.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.