(Durham NH) This game was so close that the losing team celebrated after the game ended.
But that celebration by Merrimack was short-lived as they learned that Noah Beygelman’s 3-pointer had not beaten the buzzer.
Manchester Central, thereby, escaped (barely) with a 60-58 overtime win and claimed the New Hampshire Division 1 title for the second time in three years.
The Saturday encounter at UNH was a delight to watch and there were plenty on hand at the Lundholm Gym doing exactly that.
The Little Green (15-4) started fast riding three-pointers by Evan Macdonald, Jaylen Leroy, and Osiah Lewis to a 20-12 advantage one minute into the second quarter.
The Tomahawks (13-6) used the next 3+ minutes to run nine unanswered points and take the lead (21-20). Ian Roberts and Ian Cummings put all the points together for Merrimack.
The rest of the game was tight….very tight. How tight was it? Neither team led by more than four points. There were sixteen lead changes and nine ties the rest of the way. That’s tight!
The 2016 Player-of-the-Year (Jaylen Leroy) led all scorers with twenty-five points. The 6-3 senior added ten rebounds and three steals. He also found himself at the free throw line sixteen times, including late in regulation and late in overtime.
Jaylen drained two freebies with 32 seconds left in regulation to get Central to overtime. His 3-of-6 in the final minute of OT gave the Little Green the stay-ahead points in crunch time.
Be certain that the outcome of this tense struggle was not decided until the referees ruled off substitute Noah Beygelman’s 3-point shot, after the game ended.
In the final nineteen seconds of the four-minute overtime, Zack Kerr (21 points) and Jon Makori (14 points) tallied two free throws each. Jon’s two gave MC a 59-55 lead with sixteen second left.
In the next possession Zack looked as if he wanted the shot but instead found teammate Andrew Wojciak wide open in the left corner. Andrew (11 points) fired a three. The shot hit the rim, went straight up, and fell through. Now the Tomahawks were within one with eight seconds left.
You knew a foul was coming with five seconds to go and Jaylen Leroy was fouled.
Jaylen missed the first and made the second to up MC’s lead to two (60-58).
With no timeouts left, and five seconds to work with, Zack Kerr hurried up the left side with freshman Osiah Lewis covering him.
My pictures suggest that Zack wanted to drive but Jaylen Leroy slid into the lane as an extra defender. So Zack put on the brakes, intent on going up long range. However, defender Osiah deflected the ball out of Zack’s hands and it caromed over to Noah Beygelman. Noah took a dribble toward the middle and had an open look at a three.
You never saw such a mood swing. One moment the Merrimack team/crowd was screaming and jumping in ecstasy and the next thing it was Manchester Central’s turn.
I can guarantee you that Noah was not the designated last-second shot taker because he had only come into the game for the very first time with just five seconds left. I have no doubt, however, that the senior is a 3-point shooter or Coach Goodridge wouldn’t have inserted him. Noah was a split-second away from being a huge hero.
Ian Roberts (11 points/10 rebounds) had a double/double for Merrimack. Jaylen Leroy (25 points/10 rebounds) did the same for Manchester Central.
Impressed with Jaylen Leroy and Zack Kerr. Jaylen had a terrific demeanor. Didn’t get overly excited, just let the game come to him. When he had the ball one-on-one you guessed that he could get a shot off from anywhere with a good chance for it to go in. Zack (6-1) had all the shots and was not afraid to dart to the hoop.
On February 16th Manchester Central had a 69-53 win over Merrimack. Jaylen Leroy had twenty-two in that one.
Manchester Central now has nineteen state titles.
This was the third time the two teams have met in the title game in the last six years. Merrimack won in 2012.
Both teams were content to weave the ball on the exterior looking for openings.
I am used to a 30-second clock but there was never a need for one in this game.
The fans were loud and both teams had a flag carrier.
I am deeply indebted to the UNH stat crew. They provided the stats that made this write-up possible.
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)