Conant boys give repeat performance, win Div. III basketball title
MANCHESTER — Those who support the Conant High School of Jaffrey boys' basketball team were hoping for a repeat performance at Southern New Hampshire University on Sunday, and they left Manchester satisfied.
Conant won its seventh title in the last nine years by knocking off Campbell of Litchfield 40-36 in the Division II championship game. Conant also beat Campbell to win last year's title.
"Repeating is harder than most people think it is because everyone is out to get you," Conant guard Robert O'Brien said. "We got the job done and it feels great."
Top-seeded Conant had the best defense in Division III during the regular season (40.9 points allowed per game), and that stingy defense was on display Sunday. Fifth-seeded Campbell was held to two points in both the first and third quarters, and shot 22.2 percent (8 for 36) from the field for the game.
"That's what I believe in because there's always nights when you're going to be off shooting, and we weren't a great shooting team this year," Conant coach Eric Saucier said. "I told these guys, 'To get to where we want to go you have to defend.' Our goal every game is to hold teams under 40. We'll at least score 40. No team in the playoffs got to 40 against us."
O'Brien had a team-high 14 points and a team-high six rebounds for the Orioles, who finished their season with a 20-2 record. Conant also received 13 points from senior Nick Panagiotes, who made four of his five 3-point attempts.
Junior Zach Bergeon turned in an 18-point, six-rebound effort for Campbell, which completed its season with an 18-4 record. Freshman Harrison Vedrani added eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds for the Cougars.
"We didn't turn the ball over that much (six turnovers). We just weren't able to make shots," Campbell coach John Langlois said. "They hit some big threes and we didn't hit shots. Those two quarters definitely hurt."
Conant scored the game's first seven points and led 10-2 after eight minutes. Campbell's first points came with 1:46 left in the quarter. Campbell stayed close by making each of its eight free throw attempts in the second quarter. Conant had a 23-19 lead at the half.
Conant led 30-21 after three quarters, and led by as many as nine in the fourth before Campbell cut its deficit to three on two Vedrani free throws with 4.8 seconds left. C.J. Bilodeau made a free throw with 1.7 seconds left that set off a Conant celebration.
The teams split two regular-season meetings. Campbell won 50-49 in Litchfield, and Conant prevailed 61-48 in Jaffrey.
It was the 11th state championship for the Conant program.
"Winning it two times in a row isn't easy," Conant forward Eli Hodgson said. "To do it the second time is definitely way harder. We're all real excited that we were able to do it."