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Lebanon Boys Rally to Avoid First-Round Upset

Lebanon — The Lebanon High boys basketball team earned its best regular-season NHIAA Division II record in 15 years. And the Raiders had to be at their best when it counted most Wednesday in a thrilling, come-from-behind first-round playoff win over Goffstown. Lebanon overcame a 16-point deficit and won in overtime, 74-70.

Beguiled in the first half by diminutive junior shooting guard Marcus Haynes — who shot 7-for-7 on 3-pointers in the first two quarters and finished with a career-best 32 points — the Raiders (17-4; 16-3 D-II) were forced to play catch-up against the No. 14 Grizzlies (5-14 D-II).

Trailing by 16 late in the second quarter, the Raiders’ Nic Shepherd sank a 3 at the first-half buzzer, and the Raiders outscored Goffstown 23-5 in the third quarter to go back on top.

Lebanon led by one or two possessions for the whole fourth quarter until Grizzlies senior Tim Riehl drained a game-tying 3 with 6.5 seconds left in regulation to force OT.

Tied 67-67 with less than a minute remaining in the extra period, the Raiders scored seven unanswered points in rapid succession to lead 74-67 with 5.7 seconds left. Goffstown’s Mike Bailey drilled another 3 at the buzzer, appropriately putting a bow on a wild night at Lang Metcalf Gym.

“I can’t ever remember a game like this,” said Raiders coach Kieth Matte, whose balanced, deep team had its best regular season since going 17-1 in 1998-99. “I don’t even want to watch the film on this, that’s how exhausting it was. That was the best entertainment you’re going to get for the $3 (admission).”

Playing for the second straight game without second-leading scorer Kalin Sou (ankle), the Raiders scored first on Dom Morrill’s 3-pointer, but they wouldn’t lead again for more than two quarters after Haynes’ first basket from deep gave the visitors a 5-3 edge. All of about 5 feet, 5 inches, Haynes couldn’t miss while sinking swishes from downtown, with or without hands in his face.

The farther he stepped out, the more perfectly the arches floated as the little guy put on a show and quieted Lebanon’s large crowd of supporters. Haynes was 4-for-4 from downtown, each basket extending Goffstown’s lead, including his seventh on a swing pass from Bailey to make it 36-21.

“I was just feeling it,” said Haynes, who sat out Lebanon’s 69-40 home win over Goffstown on Feb. 15 with a knee injury and played in a brace Wednesday. “It’s not like I came into the game thinking I was going to hit a bunch of 3s.”

Getting some momentum from Shepherd’s late-first half 3, the Raiders regrouped at halftime and were explosive in the third quarter.

Martin Gradijan (team-high 18 points) sank a triple, and KJ Matte issued assists to Gradijan and Gage Young (nine points), the latter drawing a foul for a three-point play to pull the Raiders within 39-35. Lebanon continued its exceptional ball movement, with Gradijan returning the favor for an assist to Matte, Austin Whaley finding Matte for 3 and Morrill getting a steal and setting up Austin Pelletier’s layup as the Raiders recaptured the lead, 42-41, with a minute left in the third quarter.

Lebanon had finally committed to blanketing Haynes on defense, and he finally missed a 3 at 5:45 of the third quarter. The Grizzlies turned it over seven times while hitting two of just four attempts from the field in the period.

The cohesive, unselfish play that has carried the Raiders all year blossomed in the third.

“We finally came together and got it done,” said Young, a co-captain. “We definitely underestimated Goffstown and we didn’t have an answer for (Haynes) in the first half. But we settled into our jobs, ran our rotations and executed in the second half.”

Lebanon led by six with two minutes to play in the second half, but the Grizzlies clawed back on a pair of Haynes free throws, a layup from Tim Comeau following a Lebanon turnover and Riehl’s 3 with 6.5 seconds left to tie it. Matte front-rimmed an open look from the top of the arc at the regulation buzzer to force OT.

Goffstown’s Bailey sank his team’s 15th 3-pointer of the night with 2:34 left in overtime to give the Grizzlies a 65-64 advantage, but it was virtually all Lebanon from there.

Pelletier (13 points) drew contact on a swift baseline runner and converted the free throw and — after the Grizzlies’ Ben Barss failed to convert his own three-point play, which would have put Goffstown back on top by one — KJ Matte found Young for two and Gradijan had a steal and baseline layup to make it 71-67 with 16.8 seconds left.

Goffstown promptly turned it over attempting the fast-break, and Gradijan and Morrill (2-for-2) combined to hit 3-of-4 from the line in the final seconds to ice it.

Free Throws: The Raiders will host No. 6 Hollis-Brookline in a quarterfinal Saturday after the Cavaliers took care of No. 11 Coe-Brown on Wednesday, 41-22. ... It was Lebanon’s largest comeback win of the season. The Raiders overcame a 24-point deficit at Bishop Brady in January, but lost in double overtime. ... Sou is expected to play Saturday.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.