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NHIAA D-I Boys' Basketball: Central stifled in semis

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 14. 2018 11:49PM
Central's Ding Niyang, center and Jeremyah Rivera react during their 50-45 loss against Portsmouth during NHIAA Division I Boys Basketball Semifinals held at UNH in Durham on Wednesday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

DURHAM — Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey said the names may change year in and year out with his team, but the expectations remain the same. The high standards are what have led the Clippers to state titles in consecutive years and finals appearances in six of the last seven seasons.

You can add another championship game to Portsmouth’s resume as it’ll head to the Division I boys’ basketball final following Wednesday’s gritty 50-45 semifinal win over Manchester Central at UNH’s Lundholm Gymnasium.

The top-seeded defending champion Clippers (18-2) will gun for a third consecutive state crown, and second straight in Division I, in Durham on Saturday at noon when they take on 11th-seeded Dover, which upset Exeter 68-66 on Wednesday.

The Clippers led for all but two minutes in the game and got up by as many as 14 in the third quarter before the fifth-seeded Little Green (15-6) cut it to as close as three points with 3:12 to play. It took 8-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line and timely defensive stops the rest of the way to help Portsmouth slip back into the title game.

“I swear to God, we said before the game that whoever had 50 would win. And really, I thought it would be in the 40s,” Mulvey said. “They don’t let you run any plays, which is hard for a good team like us that runs a lot of sets. They have a great team, but our kids found a way.”

Improvisation worked to Portsmouth’s favor early, specifically for Alex Tavares. The junior set the pace for the Clippers by scoring 17 of his game-high 23 points in the first half, which ended with Portsmouth ahead 25-16. The Clippers made a concerted effort to go at Central’s defense with Tavares, who took nine of Portsmouth’s 17 shots in the first half.

“Alex was unbelievable all night,” Mulvey said. “He’s a stud. One heck of a high school player right there.”

Tavares tailed off in the second half once the Little Green faced him up, but Cody Graham (10 points, five rebounds) and Mike Sanborn (eight points, nine rebounds) picked up the slack in the second half. Yansel Reyes (12 points), Antoine Revere (11 points) and Erik Cortijo-Rodriguez (10 points) were all in double figures for Central.

The issue for the Little Green was a slow start as they shot just 7 of 29 in the opening half, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

“I heard what we shot there and when you’re shooting like that, it’s tough,” Central coach Dave Keefe said. “Jimmy (Mulvey) did a nice job jamming the middle on us and we just didn’t have that one prolific scorer that could lift us out of it.”

Portsmouth took one of its two losses while opening the season at Central. The Clippers have formed a solid identity since then, but Mulvey pushed the importance of keeping Central from getting in an early rhythm.

“We usually play a lot more extended and get in people’s faces a bit,” Mulvey said. “That’s not the case with this team. They’re just too quick. Last time we played them, we played a zone and I think it was the first time in 10 years I’d done it, but we had to. We packed everything in here and just dared them to shoot.”