Div. II Boys' Basketball Championship: Clippers back on top
Portsmouth's Kamahl Walker left and Kyle DiCesare celebrate their team's victory in the NHIAA Division II boys' basketball championship game Saturday at Lundholm Gym at the University of New Hampshire. (Bruce Preston / Union Leader)
DURHAM — The Portsmouth cheering section began the "M-V-P" chant with 5 minutes, 49 seconds left in the Division II basketball championship game when senior guard Kamahl Walker stepped to the free throw line.
It seemed fitting. By that time the outcome had been decided. Walker headed to the bench shortly thereafter and was wearing his warm-up top when the buzzer sounded on the second-seeded Clippers' 58-33 win over fifth-seeded Bedford before a full house at the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gymnasium Saturday afternoon.
Portsmouth employed a dominating defense — getting physical on Bedford's towering frontcourt and pressuring Bulldog guards — to secure its second championship in four seasons. Buoyed by Walker's spirited production, the Clippers led from start to finish and were in cruise control midway through the third quarter.
It was the Clippers' 18th boys' hoop title in its 30th trip to the climatic championship game. The Clippers claimed their first crown in 1923 and most recent in 2009, having finished runner up to two-time defending champion Milford last season.
“I did hear that chant,” said a smiling Walker, a talented senior guard, who finished with 22 points, six steals, three assists and four rebounds. “It sounded a lot better than overrated.”
He heard overrated murmurings while suffering through a cold shooting night during his club's semifinal victory over Coe-Brown of Northwood.
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“He showed a lot of guts to come out here and show what he's made of,” said Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey after Portsmouth competed in its fourth title game since Mulvey assumed the head coach slot in 2007, the school's first Class I campaign since moving from Class L.
Controlling the boards early, Portsmouth jumped to a 4-0 lead. Bedford fought back to tie the score three times before Walker got hot, sinking a mid-range jumper, two free throws and a buzzer-beating 30-foot trey. The Clippers owned a 15-8 lead.
“That was a dagger, a dagger, a dagger, and I thought he unleashed it from about 150 feet out,” said Bedford coach John Langlois. His young Bulldogs team (three seniors) was playing in its first Division II final. They may move to Division I next season.
“I've had a knack for hitting last-second shots and so I let it fly,” said Walker, on his back by the time the shot swished through the nylon netting.
The lead hit 14 in the second quarter. While Bedford worked for close-range shots, which agonizingly seemed to roll off the rim, Walker knocked down another trey, went coast-to-coast on a swipe and assisted on a Bill Lane (six points) finish. Kyle DiCesare banked an offensive rebound home.
Portsmouth's big men, none taller than 6-foot-4, played tough down low with Charlie Duprey (eight rebounds, six points, four assists), DiCesare (six points, three boards) and Gregg Tsougranis (eight points, two rebounds) subduing Bedford's 6-foot-8 Trevor Fahmy nine points, nine rebounds), and 6-foot-10 Collin McManus (four points, six rebounds).
“They made it tough to score,” said Langlois. “They were pretty physical under the basket and put a lot of defensive pressure on our guards. That's how you play us. We did what we could with it, but it wasn't enough.”
Bedford sophomore guard Cameron Meservey led the scoring with 11 points.
The swarming Clippers defense caused 12 turnovers in the first half and 27 overall. Lane, all 5-foot-10 of him, stifled a Bedford fast break chance with a blocked shot. The Clippers made it tough for Bedford to get the ball down low and led 26-14 at intermission.
“It was textbook team defense,” said Mulvey. “I had a feeling we might fare well at practice. While watching them I couldn't figure out any scenario in which a team might score. The pressure these guys put on Bedford was unreal.”
Bedford switched to man-to-man from zone at the start of the third quarter. Walker immediately broke free for two left-handed drives. The Clippers' offense opened the throttle. When Walker banked a double-pump righty drive, his club held a 24-point lead. At this point the Portsmouth guard's personal point tally (20) surpassed Bedford's team total (16).
“That was a break for us,” said Portsmouth's Duprey.
“We had to pick our poison,” said Langlois, who coached Newmarket to a pair of state titles and also mentored Somersworth to a 2005 championship. “If we stay in a zone they hold the ball. If we go man we've got to deal with their quickness.”
Portsmouth held a 42-22 lead after three quarters. Bedford fans began filing out of the gym in search of some comfort food; perhaps a St. Patrick's Day corned beef dinner.
It was the third sport in which Portsmouth ended Bedford's season. Four-time defending champ Portsmouth beat Bedford in the 2010 championship baseball game, and the two teams met in last season's semifinal. Portsmouth won, 4-1.
Portsmouth beat Bedford 41-6 in last fall's Division III football game, even though the Bulldogs knocked off the Clippers during the regular season (24-12). Lane, Jack Mackey, Duprey, Travis MacDonald and DiCesare played on Portsmouth's pigskin team. Bedford starter James Caparell quarterbacked the football team.
“I don't know which one feels better,” said Duprey who kicked a pair of field goals in the football championship. “It's just great bringing both back to a town that is so supportive of us.”