NHIAA Boys' Basketball: Memorial cools off Merrimack
Memorial's Zoubel Iradukunda puts up a shot over Eric Gendron of Merrimack High School during Friday's game. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
The Memorial High boys' basketball team ran red-hot Merrimack off the court Friday, 81-55, without two of its top six players.
The Crusaders (10-3) were just too quick, too physical and too tough defensively as they snapped a seven-game winning streak for the Tomahawks (11-4).
"I think that was our best overall team effort of the year," Memorial coach Jack Quirk said. "If we play with that kind of energy and defensive intensity, we'll be a contender to the end."
What was shocking about the ease of Memorial's win was the way the Crusaders went into the game.
They needed a last-second shot just to beat a struggling West team earlier in the week and were missing sophomore point guard Oumaru Kante, who continues to sit out with academic issues, and freshman Tshief Ngalakulondi, who had scored 39 points in his last two games, including the game-winner against West.
Quirk wouldn't say why Ngalkulondi was sitting out, but said both he and Kante could be back this year.
It didn't matter Friday night.
The Crusaders fell behind 8-3, but the up-tempo pace was working in their favor as they constantly pushed the ball, leading to a stream of fast-break points, led by Zoubel Iradakunda, who had a game-high 23 points.
Senior center Tong Akot picked up two quick fouls, but stayed in the game and beat the Tomahawks inside and out, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and finishing with 20 points.
And while he finished with 15 points, sophomore Kabongo Ngalakulondi may have had the biggest impact, continuing to replace Kante as the primary ball handler while leading a solid defensive effort on Merrimack's all-everything guard Eric Gendron (13 points).
"I saw it as another challenge," Kabongo Ngalakulondi said. "We were just ready. Our mentality changed (since the West game); we worked hard."
Ngalakulondi had six points in the first quarter and keyed a 16-4 run to end the second quarter and give the Crusaders a 33-23 lead at the half.
A bounce pass from Ngalakulondi to Iradakunda put Memorial up 24-19 and led to the first of two timeouts by Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge in the final 3:20 of the half. Goodridge called his other about a minute later when Akot nailed a wide open 3 from the top right after Brandon Malloch had scored to get Merrimack to within five points.
Goodridge was not happy with much in the half, especially after the Tomahawks turned the ball over on 10 of their first 15 possessions to squander an early 8-3 lead.
"The turnovers and we were giving up too many second shots," Goodridge said.
The worst was yet to come.
Memorial scored 27 points in the third quarter to break the game open. At one point, the Crusaders scored on nine of 11 possessions and finished the quarter shooting 10-for-15 from the field.
"I felt like we couldn't miss," Ngalakulondi said. "It was surprising to me."
Goodridge said his team, missing starting guard Michael Gasper (shoulder), made a mistake getting caught up in an up-tempo lead after taking the early lead.
"I can tell you we won't do that again if we play them again," Goodridge said. "We were exposed a little bit tonight. We couldn't keep up with their tempo."