Great games are usually defined as the ones people remember and talk about years after they’re played. Few will argue Monday’s Division I boys’ basketball semifinal showdown at the University of New Hampshire between Manchester Central and Manchester Memorial was one for the ages.
Memorial, a 12th-seeded team that lost by 40 points to the top-ranked Little Green during the regular season, nearly ruined Central’s perfect season with two clutch three-point shots. Kabongo Ngalakulondi’s trifecta with three seconds left sent the game into overtime and Nick Philibert, inserted into the game to add more speed for Memorial’s pressing unit, canned his 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to force a second extra frame.
Central, down 40-31 at halftime, and trailing by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, eventually won the epic battle, 99-91.
A day after the dust settled, Memorial coach Jack Quirk, who served as an assistant coach under head coach Peter Poirier in 1972 when the Crusaders beat Central 64-58 in double overtime for the Class L title, reflected on Monday’s memorable game.
“We had all the intentions of going to that final game Saturday,” said Quirk, who said he got only two hours of sleep after the game before going to work Tuesday morning as director of athletics at Memorial. “We laid it all on the line, left nothing on the floor. Right now, we’re just feeling the pain.”
Quirk said his team never discussed the 40-point blowout loss (83-43) to Central. Never used it to motivate his team.
“I think everyone knew, even Doc (Central coach Dave Wheeler), that we were better than the way we played them in the regular season,” said Quirk. “My only concern Monday was how we were going to come out and play. After the first four or five minutes, my concerns completely went away. We were playing at a pace that suited our team. Both teams ran up and down the court taking quick shots and scoring. For a team that prides itself on defense — and I know Central does — I don’t even think Doc thought entering that game we’d have 80 points (40 each half) on the board after regulation. The pace, the tempo of the game was definitely to our liking.”
Long before Ngalakulondi’s and Philibert’s clutch tying shots, the game was dictated by other players. Memorial’s Trevon Maughn carried the early hot hand, scorching the Durham nets for 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting. He was six of nine from the free throw line and primarily responsible for placing Central in an uncomfortable halftime hole.
But foul trouble plagued Maughn, who had three by halftime and he ended up fouling out with 6:22 to play. Four of his five fouls came on the offensive end. Quirk has his opinions on the offensive calls, but wished not to share them in print. “Let’s just say I was surprised Trevon was sitting near me for the last 14 minutes of the game.”
The box score and game tape will forever reveal Central’s comeback was led by Joey Martin, the game-high scorer with 36 points. He nailed eight 3-point shots, six in the third period to turn a 40-31 deficit into a 60-55 Central lead after three periods.
“He was on fire, no doubt making big shots after big shots, I think at one point four in a row,” said Quirk of Martin. “But the one kid least mentioned for Central, the kid I like to say does the so-called dirty work for them, is Tyler Kelley. This kid was six-of-six from the floor and just cleaned the boards. He’s not flashy, but he gets the job done. Most people don’t know he played for us as a freshman. Last night (Monday), I wish he was also wearing our jersey.”
What most people also don’t know is how Quirk managed to resurrect a Memorial program that hit rock bottom by mid-February. Discipline problems surfaced and Quirk at times was forced to sit some of his star players. The 40-point blowout loss to Central was followed by a 30-point defeat to Exeter, giving Memorial a 5-8 record at the time.
Like Monday’s game, Quirk was dealing with a team that had its own up-and-down swings.
“Towards the end of the season, they started to care,” said Quirk. “They started to care about each other, started grasping the concept of putting team first. Believe me, I never sat them down to give them a Knute Rockne speech. The problems we encountered earlier in the year suddenly went away. They started believing in each other and you saw what they did down the stretch.”
Memorial entered the tournament 8-10 and knocked off No. 5 Bishop Guertin, No. 4 Londonderry and nearly pulled the upset of now 24-0 Manchester Central. Memorial will be a title contender again next season, losing only one senior (Josh Simpson) who played meaningful minutes. But none of that matters now for Quirk and his Crusaders.
“Maybe in a week or two, we’ll be able to think of what we accomplished this season,” said Quirk. “None of this has sunk in yet. Like I said, we’re still feeling the pain.”