Conant boys show composure, hang to beat Monadnock

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Monadnock on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Monadnock on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Monadnock on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Monadnock on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 9:9AM

Give Eric Saucier a break already. Conant’s head coach would be happy to relax on the bench at the end of games and bask in a win, but in this year’s wide-open Division III, the Orioles have made things interesting down the stretch in nearly every contest.

“Why can’t there be a game where I can just sit on the bench and enjoy the last two minutes?” Saucier said after Tuesday’s home game against Monadnock. “Nope, can’t do that.”

Conant’s recent loss to Campbell, which saw the Cougars make a furious comeback and erase the Orioles’ never-comfortable lead, has not been forgotten, and Saucier and his team have used it as a character-building block.

“I did say we were going to take the Campbell game and learn from it,” Saucier said. “We had much better composure in the past couple games against Mascenic and Monadnock.”

Peyton Springfield came out on fire Tuesday night, scoring 15 of his game-high 25 in the first half, with a trio of deep threes. Meanwhile, Monadnock’s senior 1,000-point scorer Joe Minson was relatively quiet, blanketed by Gavin Motuzas and held to just seven first-half points, his buzzer-beating three sending both teams to the locker room with Conant up 26-23.

“If he’s gonna make shots, he’s gotta make tough shots,” Saucier said. “And he did. There weren’t any easy shots for him tonight. We know he can play. I thought Gavin did a great job.”

If Minson and the Huskies were quiet in the first half, they were silent in the third quarter. Conant held Minson scoreless and Monadnock to five points, pulling out to an eight-point lead, with senior captain Ryan Smith pushing the defense to new heights.

“The last two games against Mascenic and Monadnock have been playoff atmospheres,” Saucier said. “When it comes to those, you’ve got to guard. If you don’t guard, you’ve got no chance. That’s what helped us tonight. The defense was really good.”

Monadnock wasn’t done, however. Despite tweaking his oft-injured right ankle, Minson had plenty left in the tank for the fourth quarter, where he’d score 14 of his team-high 21. The lanky, shifty guard dazzled the crowd, and the Conant defenders, with his handles, crossing over and pulling up for jumper after jumper.

“He puts that ball on a yo-yo and guys move left to right, he pulls up and you’re like ‘hey, [claps], good shot,’” Saucier said. “But the guys kept their composure, they didn’t panic.”

Despite the Huskies putting up a 25-point fourth quarter – nearly equaling their point total from the previous three frames combined – it was never quite enough. Springfield went 6-6 from the foul line down the stretch, and Jake Drew (14 points) was 6-7, and the free throws won it for Conant, as they held on for a 57-53 win.

Conant is now 14-3, third in Division III with the regular-season finale set for Friday night at Newport (3-14). If the Orioles win that one, and Mascenic (13-3) beats Hopkinton (15-2) on Friday, Conant could move up to the No. 2 seed, behind only Somersworth (15-2). The No. 1 Hilltoppers and Bryton Early ousted Conant from the playoffs last year. On paper, Newport is a very beatable opponent for the Orioles, and it might be easy to look ahead at what the postseason has in store, but Saucier and the Orioles are focused.

“They’ll know tomorrow when we’re in practice - I don’t look past anybody,” Saucier said. “I tell I love them, and we play hard, but we’re not good enough to look past anybody because the time you do, you go home.”


Senior captain Ryan Smith was joined in the starting lineup by fellow seniors John Madigan, Cam Miller and Logan Hampsey, as the longtime backups were honored on senior night at the Pratt. While the bench players may not get a lot of minutes during the course of the season, Saucier was effusive in his praise for their efforts.

“Everybody understands their role and that’s been a big part of Conant basketball over the years,” Saucier said. “Guys come in to practice like Logan, Cam and John and work their butts off every day, and I don’t take it easy on them, because if I take it easy on them, they’re not going to go as hard and they’re not going to push the starters. We’re only as good because of what they do and I can’t thank them enough.”

Smith is a fiery, passionate player who’s let that get the best of him in his younger years. But as a senior, his progression is obvious.

“We’ve had talks, especially last year and this year, he’s definitely grown up,” Saucier said. “He knows he’s the leader of this team, he knows he’s the captain. Smitty doesn’t care about points, he just wants to win. He knows this is his last chance.”

With Monadnock instigator Timmy Santaw barking and needling all night, there was tension in the air, but Smith kept his cool and the O’s came out on top.

“He can get fiery but he’s also learned to control it and that’s a credit to him,” Saucier said.