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February 20. 2012 10:09PM

Brewster tips Tilton in star-studded, top-ranked prep school hoop affair


Brewster Academy's Semaj Christon, center, drives against Tilton School's Georges Niang, left, and Nerlens Noel(3) during the first half of their game at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro Monday afternoon. Brewster won 60-56. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

Brewster Academy head coach Jason Smith said he had never seen 1,500 people crammed into a gym to watch a basketball game.

“I understand it was a game between two of the top four (prep school) teams in the country and it was on a holiday,” said Smith. “But we're still talking about a Monday afternoon and the atmosphere was unbelievable.”

The teams didn't disappoint as Joe Bramanti's steal with 19 seconds left sealed a 60-56 victory for undefeated Brewster against in-state rival Tilton School in Wolfeboro Monday.

Aaron Thomas, a 6-5 senior guard who will be attending Florida State, led the winners with 19 points and teammate Jakarr Sampson, a 6-8 forward who is still mulling offers, according to Smith, from Florida, Louisville, Kansas, Providence and St. John's, added 11 points (all in the second half) with 14 rebounds.

For Tilton, Georges Niang, a 6-7 power forward who will attend Iowa State, scored a game-high 32 points, 16 points in each half. Nerlens Noel, a 6-10 center, who, according to Smith is mulling offers from Kentucky and Syracuse, was held to eight points.

The Bobcats (28-0) will remain the No. 1 ranked team for the 16th straight week when the latest rankings are released Wednesday by the Five Star Basketball High School Power Rankings, in conjunction with Sports Illustrated. The Rams (25-6), who have been ranked no lower than fourth over the past 15 weeks, have dropped three games to the Bobcats this season including two games by margins of four points. They lost the first meeting by six points.

“Tilton definitely plays hard and they never back down,” said Smith. “We were coming off an emotional high Saturday when we beat New Hampton by 34 points, playing our best game of the year. We were primed for a letdown, but seeing the crowd pack the gym before we finished warm-ups really pumped us up. I mean we packed the entire one side where we offer seating and we had about 300 more spectators sitting on the floor behind the benches. It was incredible.”

Brewster led 34-27 at halftime, but the Rams, behind Niang, forged ahead by five points with four minutes left.

“Other than any member of my team, if I had one final possession and needed a bucket to win the game, I'd take Georges in a heartbeat,” said Smith. “He can flat out score. It doesn't matter if it's posting up, shooting three-pointers or getting to the free throw line, he's an absolute warrior.”

But Brewster managed to contain Tilton's offense in the final minutes, as Sampson controlled the glass and Thomas hit some clutch shots to give the hosts a two-point lead. Looking to tie or take the lead, Tilton attacked the basket only to have Bramanti deflect and steal a pass, leading to two free throws by Thomas with five seconds left to ice the game.

“The more you see of Bramanti, the more you appreciate what he brings to the team,” said Smith. “He could play at a high level for an America East or Patriot League team.”

Smith said Sampson is projected to be the “best shot blocker since Patrick Ewing. I would not be shocked if he had a 10-to-15-year pro career. He definitely can dominate a game.”

Smith said college scouts were out in full force Monday. “I saw representatives from UCLA and Providence and I'm sure there were many others in attendance,” said Smith. “Two of the top four programs in the same gym will draw many colleges.”

Smith said he wouldn't be surprised if Brewster and Tilton met for a fourth time this season for the national championship next month at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conn.

“I'm betting on it,” said Smith, whose team already eclipsed the best start in program history, after starting the season 24-0 last year. Brewster was 31-3 overall last year and reached the national semifinals.

Sampson and Mitch McGary, a 6-10 power forward who scored 12 points Monday, and is heading to Michigan, are the two returning starters back from last year's team.

Brewster closes out its regular season on Wednesday before entering the New England Prep School Triple-A Basketball Tournament on Feb. 29 at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass.


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