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Boys basketball

Conant slams Hopkinton in battle of DIII powers

Balanced Oriole attack too much for DIII contender Hopkinton

  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
  • The Conant boys basketball team beat Hopkinton 81-48 on Tuesday, Jan. 7.

Tuesday night’s game between Conant and Hopkinton was supposed to be a neck-and-neck fight to the finish between two of Division III’s top teams. Hopkinton showed up at the Pratt with a 3-0 record and a lot of buzz surrounding them as a potential playoff contender. But in typical Conant fashion, all that talk fell on deaf ears, as the Orioles clamped down their signature defensive pressure from the get-go.

“Everybody can talk and say as much as they want, but we want to be the team that just shuts their mouth and plays,” said senior guard Nick Panagiotes. “We didn’t want to talk about it, we didn’t want to talk crap, all we wanted to do was just focus on the game.”

Panagiotes put the Orioles on his shoulders early, scoring seven of the team’s first nine points as Conant jumped out to a 15-0 lead right off the bat. He finished with 16 as the Orioles cruised to a 81-48 victory.

“We wanted to come out early and set a tone in our home gym,” Conant head coach Eric Saucier said after the game. “We had to come out from the get go and play and I think we did that tonight.

Hopkinton boasts several big frontcourt players, none more notable than 6-foot, 5-inch senior center Gabe Nichols. who came into the game averaging 26 points per game. But the Orioles confounded Nichols all night, with senior Eli Hodgson denying the ball and getting defensive position all night long.

“Gabe’s having a great year and he’s a good player, so we had to make sure we limited his touches and if he did catch it, just go straight up,” said Saucier. “We wanted to make him work for his points. He had to work. We didn’t want anything easy.”

Even when Nichols did get the ball in the paint, the Orioles frustrated him again and again, collapsing on the big man and coming up with several big blocks. Nichols ended up with 19 points, 13 of which came in the second half, after Conant called off their dogs.

Rob O’Brien, who has already established himself as one of the best – if not the best – players in DIII, was electric, scoring 22 points and dropping four dimes. O’Brien had a number of circus-shot, and-one reverse layups in the game, including one early in the third quarter that had Hopkinton’s players with their heads down muttering “What are we supposed to do?” as he calmly stepped to the line and hit the free throw. Shortly thereafter, O’Brien stole the ball in Conant’s defensive end and blew past two Hopkinton defenders for a slam dunk that had the already-raucous crowd jumping up out of their seats with him.

WATCH: Highlights from Tuesday night's game

Hodgson, who was battling the flu all day (he said he threw up “like eight times” before even getting to school on Tuesday morning), played a solid game against Hopkinton’s big men, ending up with 10 points and seven rebounds.

It was a great shooting night for Conant; the Orioles went 59 percent from the field including an impressive 9-18 from behind the three-point arc. And, the Orioles were able to get scoring contributions from almost everyone on the roster. Anthony Gonsalves came off the bench scored eight points, and Nate Wheeler, Kyle Carland and Josh DeGrenier scored seven apiece.

“That’s one good thing about this team, they love to share the basketball,” Saucier said. “They love to keep getting each other open and make each other look good, and we preach that. As long as they play together and play well they’re going to be tough.”

Conant had a great chance to empty out their bench and get some minutes for their reserves late in the game, and they took advantage of it; at one point, Gonsalves and CJ Bilodeau chased down five straight offensive rebounds on one possession before Gonsalves put in a layup.

Now 3-0 on the season with wins over a DII team and one of DIII’s best, Conant’s next game is at home against Monadnock Friday at 7 p.m. The Huskies bring a duo of excellent guards to town in Ben Mallett and Isaiah Prince, and it will be interesting to see how that backcourt stacks up against the Orioles fierce, deep and feisty guards. Knowing Saucier, though, it’s hard to imagine that Conant won’t be ready. By the end of his postgame speech, the Orioles were already preparing for the next game.

“I told these guys ‘It’s a great win, be happy, but don’t be satisfied, because tomorrow at 6 o’clock we go right back at it,” Saucier said.

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