MANCHESTER - The first round in the battle royale between two of the top three teams in the city - and maybe the state - didn't disappoint.
Trinity and Memorial went toe-to-toe for 32 minutes Tuesday with the host Pioneers coming out with 65-54 win to keep their unbeaten record intact.
The Pioneers (8-0) led by as many as 13 points in the first half and were still up double-digits in the third quarter when the Crusaders (6-2) scratched their way back into the game, extending their defensive pressure and getting the game into a helter-skelter pace that worked in their favor.
A 10-3 run capped off by Tong Akot's putback made it 46-41 with 2:01 left in the quarter. The chase was on, but the Crusaders could never catch the Pioneers.
A 3-pointer by Kabongo Ngalakulondi (22 points) brought Memorial to within 56-52 with 2:50 left in the game, but Mabor Gabriel (14) answered with a bucket on the low post and a 3-pointer in the corner that made it 61-52 with 1:12.
The Pioneers were taking time off the clock when Gabriel got the ball in the corner with a wide open look in front of the Trinity bench. He couldn't resist, letting fly a shot that hit nothing but net and drew him a high-five from Trinity coach Dave Keefe.
"I was wide open," Gabriel said. "I kept my composure and hit the shot."
All five Trinity starters finished in double-figures, led by Carmen Giampetruzzi, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Keefe said he was proud of his team for keeping its cool when Memorial turned up its defensive pressure.
Omauru Kante added 14 for Memorial.
The Pioneers set the tone on the opening tip when Pat Keefe drove the lane to give them a lead they held throughout the game.
A lollipop runner in the lane by Brad Rhoades put Trinity up 16-6 and that was enough for Memorial coach Jack Quirk to call a timeout with 2:42 left in the quarter.
The Pioneers led 20-12 after one quarter and stretched it to 27-14 on a 3-pointer by Ryan Otis with 5:48 left in the second quarter. Trinity was 5-for-10 from long distance in the half and went into the break up 38-26. "We were not ready to go in the first six minutes of the game the way we should have been," Quirk said. "We played a lot better after that, but it was a struggle. They killed us on the offensive boards."
Trinity scored 21 points on offensive rebounds.
While this is the first look at two of the city's top teams, the third team in that cluster - Central - jumps into the fray on Feb. 1 when it plays Memorial.firstname.lastname@example.org