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NHIAA Div. I Boys' Basketball Final: Graham takes charge

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 18. 2018 1:36AM
Portsmouth's Cody Graham leaps as the buzzer sounds to celebrate the Clippers' Division I boys' basketball title win Saturday with teammates Mike Sanborn, left, and Max Lincoln. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

DURHAM - Everyone knew about the experience and pedigree the Portsmouth High boys' basketball team had on its side coming into Saturday's Division I state title game.

No one exemplifies those intangibles more than senior guard Cody Graham, who was playing in his fourth state championship game.

Without Graham's presence, top-seeded Portsmouth would not have been celebrating a third consecutive state crown after outlasting 11th-seeded Dover 46-38 at UNH's Lundholm Gymnasium. It's the second D-I title in as many seasons for Graham and the Clippers (19-2), who won the D-II title in 2016.

Graham scored 22 of Portsmouth's points on Saturday, including seven in a tight-knit fourth quarter, and had some kind of answer for every attempt Dover (11-11) made at a comeback after falling down late in the first quarter.

"When everything gets a little bit crazy and stuff, he just has that calmness about him," said Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey of Graham. "You get a little upset with him during the year because it looks like he's not into it, but it comes in handy in big games and big moments."

Graham's early efforts included taking a pair of first-half charges and draining a 3-pointer in the second quarter to cap a 9-0 spurt. The run gave Portsmouth its largest lead of the game at 11 points before the Clippers went to halftime up 24-18.

Dover clawed to within two points in the third and fourth quarters, but Graham hit a 3-pointer and converted on a tough drive through the lane to answer and subdue the Green Wave's momentum. Graham put the Clippers on his shoulders once more with the Clippers up 40-38 as he connected on four of his team's six free throws in the final minute to ice the game.

"If it was my freshman year, I probably would've walked off the court crying after being so scared," Graham said. The first two makes at the stripe were enormous as they came on a one-and-one situation, meaning any miss would have left Dover an opportunity to tie or get a lead on their next possession.

"Being here four years, I was pretty calm. Those are probably the two biggest shots of my career right there. I'm just glad I got my legs into it and hit both."

Graham added six rebounds, three assists and a steal to go with his points and stingy defense on Dover's Ty Vitko, who led the Green Wave with 18 points, but needed 16 shots to do it. Alex Tavares followed Graham with 10 points and six boards.

While Graham's offense was quite the boost, a team-wide commitment defense proved vital. Portsmouth shot just 36 percent from the field, but it held Portsmouth to 34 percent shooting and allowed the Green Wave to get to the free-throw line just three times.

Mulvey was particularly pleased with his team's grit down the stretch in the fourth, where Dover scored two points in the final three minutes and seven in the frame.

"We always talk about how you get up to these places and the ball doesn't go in the basket, but (it doesn't matter) if you can defend," Mulvey said. "Our defense down the stretch was incredible. You're talking about them trying to go fast and get quick buckets, and they're taking 15-18 seconds to get a shot off. You really can't do better than that."

Timely execution was what kept the Green Wave on the cusp of another upset until the buckets they needed stopped falling. Dover came up empty on five shots that would've either tied the game or given it a lead in the fourth quarter.

"Their defense was what I expected it to be," Dover coach Matt Fennessy said. "Portsmouth allows you to make mistakes. By that I mean they force you into them. We really couldn't handle that when we needed to.

"There was one possession (in the fourth) where I had to burn two timeouts and we even got the look we wanted but didn't finish. That's not something you can do against this team."

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