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Basketball: ConVal boys advance to Division II quarterfinals

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The ConVal boys basketball team defeated Milford 47-39 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament, and will play Lebanon on Saturday. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, March 07, 2019 12:8PM

A lot of things happened for ConVal boys’ basketball this season that hadn’t in a long time.

There was of course the regular season, where the Cougars finished 17-1 and winners of their past 16 entering the Division II tournament – the first time any ConVal boys’ basketball team totaled that many wins in the regular season since the program’s last state championship in 1993-94.

They returned to the playoffs for the first time in four years, earning the No. 2 seed after a three-way tie for the best record in DII. And Wednesday night’s 47-39 win over Milford, the only team to hand ConVal a loss this season, in the preliminary round was not only the first home playoff game since the team in 1999-00 went to the finals, but also the first playoff win in those 19 years.

“I didn’t actually expect 17-1 and the second seed, but I expected big things because the stuff we did in the offseason. Everyone was working so hard, so it’s kind of nice to have that success my senior year. It’s the complete opposite from my freshman year when we were 1-17,” said senior Ben Henry.

So it’s understandable that the players were excited, celebrating with what appeared to be the entire student section who spilled on to the court after the final buzzer sounded. Not a single one of them had experienced playoff basketball, so this team earned the right to live it up.

“It was unbelievable. I’ve never played basketball in front of that big of a crowd. That’s the loudest I’ve ever heard the gym, so it’s something we’ll never forget and it’s something we’ll use to drive us throughout the playoffs,” said junior Taylor Burgess.

But the Cougars know there’s more work to do, starting with Saturday’s quarterfinal match-up with seventh-seeded Lebanon. The Raiders were 12-6 in the regular season and defeated Bishop Brady 47-40 in their playoff opener on Wednesday, a team ConVal beat 53-45 on Jan. 15.

While it’s been more than two and a half months and 16 wins since ConVal lost to Milford on Dec. 20, they knew the key defensively was going to come down to stopping the Spartans’ penetration, forcing long, contested shots.

“We’ve just been struggling shooting. We had a lot of good looks tonight,” said Milford coach Dan Murray.

On offense, the goal was to keep doing what made them so successful this season: move the ball and wait for the right shot

Senior Manny Bowman gave ConVal its first lead about midway through the first quarter with a floater in the lane, and the Cougars never gave it up. They ended the first on an 11-2 run to grab a 13-5 lead, led by junior Connor Buffum’s five.

After going scoreless for nearly the first four minutes of the second and watching their lead shrink to three on two separate occasions, Henry responded with his only three of the game put ConVal ahead 16-10 and his three-point play sparked a 9-2 spurt to close out the half and take a 25-15 advantage into the locker room.

“Coach always says earn it and that’s what we did. We just kept on fighting and kept on working,” Henry said.

ConVal coach Leo Gershgorin knew Milford would put together a run. In the third, the Spartans outscored the Cougars 17-9, led by Max Fortin’s seven and six from Sam Santaniello, and trailed by just two, 34-32, entering the fourth. But each time it looked like Milford was going to come all the way back, ConVal had an answer. Burgess hit two big threes and Del Bonsu-Anane’s driving lay-up helped keep the advantage in the Cougars’ favor.

“We held them to 15 points in the first half, so we knew either the third or fourth quarter they were going to score, and we were just hoping it wasn’t going to be the fourth quarter,” Gershgorin said. “So they went on a little bit of a run, but that’s going to happen, it’s a playoff game and they’re a good team.”

ConVal opened the fourth on a 7-0 run, in part thanks to another Burgess three, and led by as many as 10. Milford didn’t score its first basket of the fourth until there was just 15 seconds remaining, a credit to the ConVal defensive effort.

“In the fourth quarter, I thought we defended when we needed to, got stops,” Gershgorin said. “The biggest thing in the 16 games since (the loss to Milford) is that we’ve been able to get those stops when we needed them.”

Henry led all eight ConVal scorers with 10, the only player in double figures. Burgess finished with nine and Bonsu-Anane chipped in eight.

“These guys, you just never know. Taylor hit some huge shots, Mather (Kipka) finished at the hoop, had a couple nice finishes, but a couple guys struggled to put the ball in the hoop,” Gershgorin said. “But Saturday, you have no idea who’s going to be that guy. It could be Max (Richard), it could be Del. So it really is nice because it makes it harder for teams to get ready for us. There’s not just one or two or three guys.”

Fortin led all scorers with 14 – the only Milford player in double figures – followed by six each from Colin Pynn, Gavin Urda and Santaniello.

Saturday’s quarterfinal match-up against Lebanon tips off at 7 p.m.