Raiders Win at Buzzer
Lebanon Fights Off Hollis, Reaches Semis
Lebanon — Two players went up for the ball. Two came down. One arose with a bloody nose. Must have been a wrestling tournament.
One black-shirted giant crashed sideways into two in white jerseys, scattering them like deadwood. Must have been a bowling match.
The winning score came after a clock-sapping, contest-closing possession. Must have been a gridiron clash.
Lebanon High’s 53-51 win over Hollis-Brookline in a rambunctious, rowdy NHIAA Division II boys basketball quarterfinal at a full Lang Metcalf Gym on Saturday night owned all of that and more. And it ended with a football play by a football player.
Content to kill the clock for a late-second shot in a 51-51 tie, freshman Raider point guard K.J. Matte attacked the right side of Hollis’ game-long zone defense with less than 5 seconds to go. Matte drew two defenders and kicked the roundball into the right corner to guard Kalin Sou, whose 3-point attempt came up short.
Lebanon’s Gage Young had the rebound, but a poke from Hollis-Brookline center Shea Walton knocked the roundball into the mitts of Raider teammate Dominick Morrill. Already airborne and falling, with no time left to think, Morrill delivered a two-handed bench press of a shot that rolled over the rim and through the basket at the buzzer, leaving the senior forward prone on the floor under an avalanche of Lebanon players and students.
“I saw Gage go up and tip it, and it came right down to me,” Morrill said. “I got it and got hit, so I started falling down with kind of a Hail Mary. I mean, I don’t practice those shots at all.
“But I’m so glad it went in. It was scaring me, rolling around there for a minute.”
The tactics of the sixth-seeded Cavaliers (14-6) gave the third-ranked Raiders (17-3) the type of test they’ve rarely had this winter.
Cribbing from the Syracuse playbook, Hollis — with the 6-foot-6 Whalen literally highlighting a lanky frontcourt defense — threw a 2-3 zone at Lebanon, extended it beyond the 3-point line and dared the hosts to force passes to the baseline. The pace slowed, and the contact picked up, to the tune of 39 total fouls.
The Raiders answered by limiting the bigger Cavaliers’ second-chance scoring with aggressive rebounding. They played the visitors to a near deadlock on the boards and in second-chance points, ironically winning the game on one such opportunity.
Lebanon led 14-13 after one quarter, then didn’t do so again until a fourth quarter that included three changes and five ties.
“We felt that if we could keep them off the glass, we would hit enough shots to get by,” Lebanon coach Kieth Matte said. “It was quite a night.”
K.J. Matte finished with a game-high 14 points for the Raiders, backed by nine apiece from Sou and Morrill. Senior guard Cole Gallant produced a gutsy 12 points for the Cavs before fouling out; Whalen and swingman Daniel Bentall contributed 11 each.
The Raiders plodded through a 5-for-28 performance from the floor in the first half, and Hollis’ defense was fully to blame. The Cavs double-teamed each Lebanon toss to the baseline, keeping the hosts from whipping the basketball around in hopes of displacing the zone.
Failing to properly fill out their scorebook cost the visitors just before halftime, allowing Lebanon to suffer minimally for its offensive struggles. Down 21-17, K.J. Matte converted two technical foul shots for the clerical error with 16 seconds left in the half and Sou added another to keep the Raiders within a point of the lead.
“They’re very tall and, as everyone knows, Lebanon’s pretty short,” Morrill admitted. “We lack in size. I started the game awful with a lot of air balls, and I didn’t know what was going on. They’re really tall and that affects us, because we’re a shooting team.”
The three-official crew did well to keep emotions in check. Gallant and Lebanon’s Nic Shepherd crashed to the floor pursuing a rebound just before halftime, with Shepherd drawing a bloody nose. Whalen bowled into Morrill and the Raiders’ Martin Gradijan with 5:14 left in a 42-42 game, also in pursuit of a free ball, the pile rolling to the base of the west grandstand. No technicals were called, and none were required.
Sou twice gave the Raiders leads late, at 46-44 (foul shots) and 49-46 (3-pointer), mirrored each time by Hollis guard Matt Fothergill (ditto, and ditto). So, with 3:29 left and the Cavaliers unwilling to leave their zone, the Lebanon coach told his son to hold the ball.
And he did. And did. And did some more, bleeding more than a minute and a half off the clock.
“I didn’t think they’d let us stall; I thought they’d come out man-to-man,” Kieth Matte said. “Then they’d have a hard time matching up.”
Hollis did, Lebanon’s Young drew a dubious fifth foul on Gallant and hit two free throws with 1:41 left. Whalen laid in a Logan Blake pass 15 seconds later for one final deadlock, and the Raiders returned to their ground — or, more appropriately, grind (down the clock) — game.
“If we just take one shot,” Matte said, “we can’t lose.”
Instead, they got two. The last one — and the last possible moment — won the game.
Said Morrill: “I’m astonished.”
Free Throws: Lebanon’s biggest lead, five points, came at 7-2 less than three minutes into the game. Hollis never led by more than five points after taking a 21-15 lead with three minutes left in the second quarter. … The Cavaliers held a 24-23 rebounding edge, 6-5 on the offensive glass and 7-6 in second-chance points, slim advantages that spoke to the Raiders’ play in the paint — from Morrill, Shepherd and Austin Pelletier — as much as anything. “We knew we would have problems,” Matte said. “What we said was we couldn’t let them have second shots.” … The Raiders finished 15-for-47 from the field, but a solid 8-for-20 from beyond the 3-point line. Lebanon also outshot Hollis at the line, going 15-for-24 compared to the Cavs’ 7-for-15. … The win send the Raiders back to UNH for the semifinals for the second time in as many years. They’ll play No. 2 Portsmouth — a 44-29 winner over No. 7 Plymouth — in a 6 p.m. contest on Wednesday. Top-ranked Pembroke and No. 4 Pelham collide in the 8 p.m. semi.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.