DURHAM — One second the fans were heading for the Lundholm Gymnasium exits. A second later they were scrambling back to their seats.
The top-seeded Manchester Central boys’ basketball team and 12th-seeded Manchester Memorial battled through two overtimes Monday before Central prevailed 99-91 in the Division I semifinals at the University of New Hampshire.
Memorial trailed by 10 with 3:30 to play, but forced overtime when Kabongo Ngalakulondi made a 3-pointer with three seconds to play to make it an 80-80 contest at the end of regulation. Memorial’s Nick Philibert nailed another 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in OT to force another four-minute overtime, where the Little Green outscored the Crusaders 11-3.
“We just wanted to win by one,” Central coach Doc Wheeler said. “We didn’t do a great job to close it, and Memorial made some key plays at key times. They have some very good athletes and they made plays. You have to give your opponent credit. They played great.”
Central (21-0) will play third-seeded Merrimack (19-2) in Saturday’s Division I championship game, which will be played at UNH’s Lundholm Gym (noon).
Merrimack advanced by beating second-seeded Trinity of Manchester 58-48 in Monday night’s first semifinal. Central beat Merrimack 62-59 in Manchester during the regular season.
Central’s Joey Martin led all scorers with 36 points. He made eight 3-pointers, six of which came in the third quarter when Central turned a 40-31 halftime deficit into a 60-55 lead entering the fourth. Martin also had a team-high 12 rebounds.
“He was unbelievable,” Wheeler said. “His best game.”
Jon Martin, Joey’s older brother, finished with 27 points, Brett Hanson tossed in 19 and Tyler Kelley had 14. Hanson fouled out with 59.1 seconds remaining and Central leading 76-72.
For the longest time it looked like Memorial guard Trevon Maughn was going to lead Memorial (12-13) to an upset. Maughn scored 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting before he picked up his fifth foul with 6:22 to play and Central leading 64-57. Maughn made six 3-pointers.
Memorial shot 65.4 percent from the field in the first half, when it made 17 of 26 shots (six 3-pointers).
Central will be seeking its first Division I championship since 2006. Merrimack beat Central 65-56 in the 2012 Division I championship game.
“We’re happy to be coming back to UNH,” Wheeler said. “We have another huge challenge ahead of us.”