NHIAA Div. II Boys' Basketball Semifinal: Souhegan rolls into finals
By JIM FENNELL New Hampshie Union Leader
The Souhegan bench explodes as the Sabers defeat Lebanon. (JAY REITER/UNION LEADER)
DURHAM - A few injuries, a slow start, a tough schedule. They were all factors in Souhegan of Amherst being seeded seventh in the Division II boys' basketball tournament.
But make no mistake: This team was no underdog when it took the court against No. 3 Lebanon in Wednesday's semifinal game at the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gymnasium.
"They have the talent to get on a roll," Lebanon coach Keith Matte said, "and they're rolling now."
Zack Simmonds knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:38 left and Brandon Len sank four free throws in the final 35 seconds as the Sabers turned back the Raiders, 53-45, to return to the finals for the first time since winning the second of two straight titles in 2004.
Lebanon (16-5), down 9-0 to start the game, never led, but stayed close enough to tie the game at 44-all on a Kalin Sou's 3-pointer with 2:18 left. Souhegan (14-7), a senior-laden team with two starters back from the 2011 Final Four team, stayed cool throughout the game and that didn't change in the final minutes.
Len (21) drew two defenders to him as he dribbled along the sideline before whipping a pass to the wide-open Simmonds in the corner, who calmly swished his only made shot of the game to put Souhegan up 47-44.
Lebanon couldn't answer with its own 3 and Jake Kennedy (12 points) sank a short jumper in the lane to make it 49-44 with 50 seconds left. Lebanon's 14th turnover of the game forced the Raiders to foul and Len clinched the game at the free throw line.
Souhegan coach Mike Heaney said this tournament is not about wins and losses for the Sabers, it's about honoring the memory of Tony Barksdale, the former Souhegan player who died earlier in the month.
"They're playing to honor how he played, with toughness and spirit," Heaney said.
Len, who switched his number to 42 to honor Barksdale, said, "We're all rallying around Tony's family to come together as a community. It hasn't been about basketball for us."
Maybe not, but the basketball has been pretty good.
The Sabers made three of their first four shots and turned the Raiders over on six of their first nine possessions as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead. They led 17-8 after one quarter, 32-23 at the half and 40-34 after three stops.
Credit Souhegan's Tanner Kent for the keeping Lebanon leading scorer David Hampton (10 points) from ever getting on a roll.
Lebanon stayed close, but never found enough consistency on either end of the floor. When they finally did force Souhegan into a couple of turnovers to tie the game, the Sabers answered by scoring on their final four possessions.
Souhegan 53, Lebanon 45
Souhegan: Zack Simmonds 1-0-2; Tyler Ford 3-2-8; Tanner 1-0-2; Jake Kennedy 6-0-12; Brandon Len 6-6-21; AJ Hayes 1-0-2; Connor Holbrook 0-1-1; Matt Protzmann 2-0-4. Totals 20-9-53
Three-pointers: Len 3; Simmonds
Lebanon: David Hampton 4-0-10; Nic Shephard 3-0-6; Vinnie Guerin 2-0-5; Dom Morrill 5-2-15; Austin Whaley 0-1-1; Kalin Sou 1-0-3; Austin Pelleitier 2-1-5. Totals 17-4-45