Conant boys cruise into D-III semifinals

  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The No. 2 Conant boys basketball team defeated No. 7 Somersworth 75-51 in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday, March 2, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

The goal for every basketball team is to be playing their best when the calendar switches to March.

Everything the Conant boys program has done since preseason began in mid-November has been working toward this moment. All the tough practices and 18 regular season games have been building toward the Division III tournament.

And so far, it looks like the No. 2 seeded Orioles are peaking at the right time.

With yet another dominating performance against No. 7 Somersworth on Saturday night, a 75-51 victory in the D-III quarterfinals, Conant is back in the Final Four for a second straight year.

“They just want to win and they’re going to do everything it takes to win,” said coach Eric Saucier.

The Orioles will play No. 3 Newport on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Division III semifinals at Southern New Hampshire University. No. 1 Berlin and No. 5 Campbell will play in the other semifinal contest at 7:30 p.m.

The team is so goal oriented that they don’t look back at last year’s semifinal loss to Prospect Mountain. It is always geared toward the next opponent.

And after Saturday night’s win, the Orioles’ energy switched to preparing for Newport, which has the same 19-1 record as Conant after its 53-44 win over Hopkinton.

It was all working for the Orioles on Saturday night.

The overall defensive effort, especially in the first half, was vintage Conant. The press took the Hilltoppers out of their comfort zone early and led to a number of early turnovers. The Orioles were contesting every shot. They were jumping passing lanes and limiting Somersworth to very few second-chance opportunities.

“We love pressing and we love getting steals,” said senior Devin Springfield. “We get them out of their comfort zone and that’s our main focus when we press.”

Offensively, after a slow start, the Orioles were off and running, as usual. Lay-ups in transition and threes from the corner helped build another big lead at the half.

At first, it was back and forth. Somersworth took a 5-0 lead and was up 11-10 with about three minutes left in the first.

Then, like so many times this season, Conant quickly put the game out of reach. They would score the final 11 points of the quarter with a jumper by Springfield and threes from senior Jake Carlson and juniors Kyle Carland and Robert O’Brien, the latter two coming off steals.

“We always get off to a slow start, but once we get the defense going, it leads to good offense,” said Saucier. “It’s all about the defense.”

The Orioles added the first seven of the second to finish off an 18-0 run and take a 28-11 lead. Somersworth got it down to 12, but it didn’t last. Carland drained another three, as did O’Brien. Springfield knocked down a pair of free throws and laid one in for another quick 10-0 run that put them ahead 38-18 at halftime.

“It’s a lot harder to guard a team that has five players who can score,” said Springfield. “We don’t have just one player you can key in on. We have so many weapons.”

Conant hit seven three-pointers in the first half and finished with 10 for the game.

“We were making a lot of extra passes,” said junior Eli Hodgson. “They were doubling a lot, so it made it a lot easier for us to find the open man. We’re looking to be unselfish at this point and we know that’s what it is going to take to win a championship.”

The third quarter is always important to Saucier. He wants his team to win every quarter after the half and the Orioles did just that. They scored 21, including the last eight by Springfield, and allowed just 13 to increase their advantage to 28.

“We knew as long as we controlled the game on defense we could win,” said Hodgson.

It grew to as much as 34 in the fourth.

“I’m happy, but not even close to satisfied. We can definitely get better defensively,” said Saucier. “We’re still far from our goal and we need to make sure we get better every day.”

Springfield scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second and third quarters and finished with eight rebounds and seven assists. O’Brien had 16, including a first quarter dunk, with four boards and four assists. Carlson scored 11 and Hodgson added nine points and seven rebounds.

Conant has now won 12 straight games dating back to Jan. 18 and all 19 wins have come by double digits.

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