Joe Duball's High School Basketball: Riding a Wave of emotionBy JOE DUBALL
New Hampshire Union Leader
March 13. 2018 11:55PM
A consensus opinion took shape among the Division I boys’ hoops ranks in the month leading up to the state tournament. Ask any coach what it would take to win a championship this season and they’d simply come back at you with one word: momentum.
The opinion certainly wasn’t wrong, but no one pegged 11th-seeded Dover being the team to corral its best efforts to make an improbable run to today’s semifinals at UNH’s Lundholm Gymnasium.
The idea of any team rattling off three or four playoff wins was directed more towards teams with higher seeds and a track record. Dover’s low seeding and 8-10 regular-season mark didn’t inspire big expectations, but that didn’t stop the senior-laden Green Wave from having their own high standards. Raising the bar for themselves and answering their own call is ultimately what it took to upset No. 6 Londonderry (62-58) and No. 3 Bedford (45-43) in order to be in Durham.
“I’ve had a lot of this group since I I was the JV coach,” second-year Dover coach Matt Fennessy said. “They’ve really just banded together these last two weeks and taken to our game plan on things. But even throughout the course of the year, it has felt like we’ve been in games, either leading or coming up short, and we knew we could compete like this with teams.”
Fennessy was spot on with the competitive vibe he sensed from his club. Eight of Dover’s 10 losses during the regular season came by nine points or fewer.
The desire to compete is somewhat surprising given Dover’s lack of success in recent seasons. This year’s playoff appearance is the first in five years for the Green Wave, who won just 13 games during the postseason drought.
“I think where a lot of these guys are seniors, enough was enough for them,” said Fennessy, who carries eight seniors. “They put their trust in myself and the coaching staff with our belief that we were close. They just needed to, as corny as it sounds, trust the process, which everyone hears all the time. If you believe you can do it, then you can.”
Seniors Devin Cady, John Cantwell, Ryan Coleman and Nick Yerardi have upped the ante here in the playoffs while Fennessy said the full complement of his roster has offered something along the way, whether that be in practice or a game. Practice made perfect in the quarterfinal win against Bedford as Fennessy noted his team worked tirelessly to improve managing the end of games in practice.
Defense is another area of improvement for Dover that can’t be ignored. The Green Wave have carried one of D-I’s best offenses all season, but it came with one of the league’s worst defenses in terms of points allowed.
“I told them it was going to frost them someday to know the defense got in the way,” said Fennessy, noting it’s been a change in effort, not schemes, that has helped the defense flourish in the playoffs.
Defense will be the priority if the Green Wave expect to get by Exeter, which took a 74-66 win against the Green Wave on Feb. 16. Fennessy said it would be easy to key on Cody and Josh Morissette, who combined for 29 points in Exeter’s regular-season win, but the pair will get their share of points again. Fennessy’s hope is to get more timely stops, which he said his Green Wave could not do back in February.
Tending to Exeter is a piece of the puzzle, but Dover knows it will serve itself best by sticking to its brand of basketball.
“You do have to take care of yourself,” Fennessy said. “You have to game plan our offense and defense for what we want to do against them. We need to play the way we want to play.
“My hope is that it comes down to a one-possession game and hopefully we have the ball.”
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JIM MULVEY said prior to this season that his Portsmouth boys, the defending D-I champions, were not the same team that went 21-0 last season. Nor were they close to the best team in the league.
The Clippers have made Mulvey eat his words as they earned Division I’s top seed for the second consecutive season and are a win away from returning to the final. In the way of No. 1 Portsmouth’s dreams of repeating is No. 5 Manchester Central, which is another club peaking at the right time.
Central has won 10 of its last 11 games, including two triumphs to get to today’s semifinals. Dave Keefe’s Little Green served the Clippers one of their two losses with a 17-point win to open the season.
What’s scary for Portsmouth is that Central might be better now than it was in that opening win. The Little Green closed out the season with six games against playoff-bound clubs and went 5-1 during the stretch.
Antoine Revere has a full grasp of Central’s motion offense and an ability to create his own offense while Kyler Bosse is showing as one of the best inside-out players you’ll find in Division I. Erik Cortijo-Rodriguez and Yansel Reyes have also filled needs on a given night, leaving Central with layers to an up-tempo offense that should enjoy the big floor at Lundholm Gymnasium.
All that said, Portsmouth is the top seed for a reason and its experience in Durham can’t be overlooked. Cody Graham has played in three championship games and won back-to-back titles — last year’s D-I crown and a D-II championship the year prior — while Mike Sanborn and Alex Tavares were both stalwarts in Portsmouth’s title run a year ago.
The Clippers’ fortunes will come down to whether 3-pointers are falling for Graham and Sanborn, who rank as two of the best shooters from beyond the arc in the state. The wild card is Tavares, who has shown that he can take over games when he wants to and when the Clippers put him in a position to do so.