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NHIAA D-II Boys' Hoop Semis: Hollis/Brookline goes inside to top Merrimack Valley

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 12. 2018 10:16PM
During the NHIAA Boys Div. II basketball semifinal held at UNH Durham on Monday night Hollis-Brookline beat Merrimack Valley 46-43. Hollis-Brookline teammates react to their win. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader)

DURHAM — Whoever said basketball is no longer a big-man’s game probably isn’t familiar with the Hollis/Brookline boys’ team, which earned the No. 1 seed for this year’s Division II tournament by dominating on the interior.

That’s exactly what Hollis/Brookline did in its 46-43 triumph over fifth-seeded Merrimack Valley of Penacook in Monday night’s semifinals at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym.

The Cavaliers outscored the Pride 38-8 in the paint and finished the game with a 38-18 edge in rebounding. Hollis/Brookline’s Matt Simco, a 6-foot-3 forward, scored a game-high 21 points to go along with his game-high 14 rebounds, and the Cavaliers also received a 14-point, eight-rebound effort from senior Matthew Dowling, another 6-foot-3 forward.

“It’s just kind of how we’re built,” Dowling said.

Despite its advantage on the interior, Hollis/Brookline had to sweat this one out. Merrimack Valley was within a point after a Caleb LeClair jumper with 26 seconds to play, but Simco hit two free throws with 22 seconds left to extend the lead to three and the Pride’s last-second 3-pointer was off the mark.

Merrimack Valley looked like it would have a chance to prevail on its final possession after Hollis/Brookline’s Scott VanCoughnett missed two free throws with 24.6 seconds remaining, but Simco grabbed the rebound and was fouled.

“They kept their composure down the stretch and that was huge because we were able to able to keep the lead,” Hollis/Brookline coach Cole Etten said. “We work on the things that make us successful and Matt (Simco) and Matt (Dowling) — I don’t know what the stat line is — but they go out and work hard.”

Hollis/Brookline (18-2) will face seventh-seeded Oyster River (15-6) in Saturday’s Division II championship game. Oyster River knocked off third-seeded Pembroke Academy 58-57 in overtime in Monday night’s first semifinal. Hollis/Brookline beat Oyster River 67-58 in Hollis during the regular season.

Merrimack Valley did most of its scoring on the perimeter. Nearly half of the team’s points came via its seven 3-pointers. Jack Prewitt made four of those 3-pointers and scored a team-high 12 points. The Pride received 11 points from LeClair, and 10 from both Ryan Defina and Kyle Dube, who had a team-high five rebounds.

Hollis/Brookline led 12-2 after one quarter, 26-18 at halftime and 36-31 entering the final quarter.

Merrimack Valley missed eight of its nine field goal attempts in the opening quarter and shot 35.7 percent (15 of 42) for the game.

“Their physicality really did us in,” Merrimack Valley coach Tim Mucher said. “I think they scored 26 points in the first half in the paint. Not that that was the whole game because we had a valiant effort coming back, but you can’t come out in the first quarter and get in a hole the way we were. We played three quarters of basketball that was our style. If you don’t score it’s hard to press.”

NHIAA Hollis Penacook