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Pembroke Takes Thriller From Lebanon Boys

  • Lebanon's Martin Gradijan rises over Pembroke's Cameron Taylor, right, during their game in Lebanon, N.H. on December 13, 2013. Pembroke won the game 68-65 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Lebanon's Martin Gradijan rises over Pembroke's Cameron Taylor, right, during their game in Lebanon, N.H. on December 13, 2013. Pembroke won the game 68-65 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon's Dominick Morrill, center, looks past Pembroke defenders during their game in Lebanon, N.H. on December 13, 2013. Pembroke won the game 68-65 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Lebanon's Dominick Morrill, center, looks past Pembroke defenders during their game in Lebanon, N.H. on December 13, 2013. Pembroke won the game 68-65 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon's Martin Gradijan rises over Pembroke's Cameron Taylor, right, during their game in Lebanon, N.H. on December 13, 2013. Pembroke won the game 68-65 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Lebanon's Dominick Morrill, center, looks past Pembroke defenders during their game in Lebanon, N.H. on December 13, 2013. Pembroke won the game 68-65 with a 3-pointer in the final seconds. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Lebanon — With no available public address system, the Lebanon High boys basketball team’s season began unceremoniously Friday night, with no National Anthem or pre-game introductions. Instead, all of the festivities were reserved for the game, with defending New Hampshire Division II champion Pembroke Academy escaping with a 68-65 win in an exhilarating opener at Lang Metcalf Gym.

The Raiders and Spartans played to five lead changes and seven ties, the last of the latter coming when freshman KJ Matte nailed a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to make it 65-65.

Having completed a nine-point comeback on Matte’s lone basket of the night, Lebanon and its fans were flat-out giddy as coach Kieth Matte called timeout to devise a defense for what figured to be the final shot of regulation.

The Raiders went with a full-court press, and the ball went to the right side and Spartans senior Dylan Gage. The stocky guard heaved up a bank shot for a 3-pointer with four seconds left, giving Pembroke the lead back. With no timeouts, the Raiders had to inbound on running time and Martin Gradijan’s desperation shot from beyond half court fell short to give the Spartans the win.

“That was intense, that was a great game,” Kieth Matte said. “We rallied and showed we could compete with them.”

The Raiders did more than that in the first half, outscoring the Spartans 25-16 in the second quarter to build a 34-25 lead at halftime.

Lebanon hit six 3-pointers in the first two quarters — three from senior Kalin Sou (team-high 12 points) — and bookended the second period with runs of 9-2 and 10-3 to pull away.

It was a balanced rally for the Raiders, who had no one in double figures at halftime yet had three players — John Cioffredi, Sou and Nic Shepherd — with six points and another pair with four at the break.

“That’s who we are this year,” said Kieth Matte. “We’re going to have five guys on the floor who can play and they’re going to be ready to play when they’re out there.

“You’ve got to be pleased with our effort tonight. We made a couple of mistakes we can fix, but it’s something to build off for sure.”

The Spartans, who lost two starters, but return plenty from last year’s 22-0 juggernaut, came to life in the second half. Six-foot-4 forward Kafani Williams (game-high 24 points, nine rebounds) and career 1,000-point scorer Pat Welch (21 points) found their rhythm after being limited in the first half, and the sizable Spartans held an 11-4 rebounding edge in the third quarter after leading only 12-7 on the boards at halftime.

Williams — who wears No. 23 and is nicknamed “Jordan” — scored 11 in the first 4:38 of the second half as part of a 15-4 Pembroke run to put the visitors back on top.

“Crashing the boards was key, and it was just a matter of playing with more energy,” Williams said. “We came out focused in the second half.”

The gritty Raiders wouldn’t relent, regaining the lead with a 6-0 run, sparked by Austin Pelletier’s 3-point play, to make it 44-42.

Pembroke followed with a 14-3 spurt, going 8-for-8 from the free throw line during the rally to take a 56-47 lead early in the fourth quarter.

“We turned the game around because we did a much better job against their press,” Pembroke coach Matt Alosa said. “You have to give Lebanon credit for the way they played defense in the first half.”

Gradijan hit a 3 to pull the Raiders within six and, after an underhanded layup by Williams, Shepherd made it 60-55 with a dribble-drive layup through the lane, making the shot, drawing the foul and sinking the free throw to get the crowd back into it.

Austin Whaley kept the rally going with a pair of steals, converting the first into a fast-break layup and dishing the second off to Shepherd for two more as Lebanon pulled within 60-59 with 1:30 remaining.

With both teams in double bonus foul trouble, they traded free throws over the next 75 seconds — some made, some missed — to set up Matte’s ear-drum crunching 3-pointer in front of the student section.

During the ensuing timeout, Pembroke’s plan wasn’t necessarily designed to feature Gage, but the senior instinctively banked home the winner.

“I’m always prepared to shoot,” the guard said. “I had no idea how many seconds were left, I didn’t look at the clock. But I knew (the end of regulation) was getting close and I was confident I could make that shot.”

Free Throws: The Raiders are still without a permanent replacement for departed athletic director Kelley Carey, though her name is still listed on the team’s program. Interim AD Linda Preston was not on hand, with mathematics teacher Kristin Wilson serving as site director. ... It was the Raiders’ fifth straight loss to the Spartans, dating the 2010-11 season. ... Pembroke was issued a first-quarter technical foul when it was discovered that Gage, wearing No. 3, was listed as No. 5 in both the program and official score book. Alosa indicated the No. 5 uniform had been misplaced. ... Pembroke was 25-of-32 on foul shots, Lebanon 12-for-22. ... The Raiders attempted 51 field goals, eight more than Pembroke.

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