By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – Unruffled and undefeated, that was the Lebanon High boys basketball team Friday after its 51-39 defeat of Hanover. The hosts trailed by eight points at halftime but rallied for the lead with two minutes remaining in the third quarter and cruised through the final stanza.
The Raiders improved to 11-0 and dropped the Marauders to 7-4 after suffering their third consecutive loss. Lebanon opens the NHIAA Division II playoffs Wednesday by hosting the winner of a Monday play-in game between ConVal and John Stark. Hanover hosts Bow on Wednesday and the neighboring rivals would meet again on March 6 in Lang Metcalf Gymnasium if they each advance.
“The road to that championship we all covet starts right now,” said Karsten Hansen, who led Lebanon with 16 points and was part of last winter’s Raiders squad that had its postseason ended early by Covid-19. “We can’t think too much about what could have been, but we can also let that push us forward.”
Braeden Falzarano had 15 points for Lebanon, several on left-handed layups dropped in at top speed. Nyeoti Punni had 7 points, Jack Stone had 6 points and Calvin Bates added 5 points for the Raiders. Brett Simmons had 11 points for Hanover, followed by Will Cahoon with 6 points. Jacob Kubik-Pauw, Mason Gantrish and Max Galbraith each had 5 points for the visitors.
Lebanon missed its first seven field-goal attempts and made only 7 of 20 chances from the floor during the first half. However, the Raiders’ experienced roster, with poise acquired throughout high-pressure moments in various sports, paid dividends with a hot start to the third quarter.
“The first half, we let Hanover play to whatever pace they wanted,” said Hansen, who was honored Friday as his school’s February student of the month. “We just can’t do that. We want to play fast and they’d like to have as few possessions as they can.
“You can get inside your own head with all those misses and confidence is a huge part of the game. But you have to keep believing you’re the best player out there.”
How to explain the second-half resurgence?
“We played some great defense and with a lot more energy,” Hansen said. “We knew there was a job to be done and we came out and did that. We wanted to get better in this game to be prepared for tougher competition in the playoffs.”
Lebanon coach Kieth Matte said his team uncharacteristically surrendered fast-break baskets and allowed Marauders to dribble and drive almost at will during stretches of the first half. He stressed help defense and more-determined rebounding during the break.
“We don’t worry about them making tough shots; we worry about the things we can control,” Matte said. “We shot the ball a little better, but more importantly, we guarded it better. We didn’t give up second shots or anything in transition.
“You don’t pump this team up. You keep them calm and focused, because they don’t need to be rah-rahed.”
Hanover coach Tim Winslow is a Lebanon High English teacher who’s had many of the Raiders in his classes. He noted that his team scored only 13 second-half points while having to defend four legitimate scorers in Hansen, Falzarano, Stone and Bates. The Marauders’ offensive rebounding also dropped precipitously after intermission, Winslow said.
“You can key on one or two of them but they’ve got other guys who can pick it up,” the coach said. “We did a nice job in the first half but they got the momentum going and we got on our heels, too. We’re still a young team, but we work hard.”
Notes: Lebanon’s two-game sweep of Hanover this week won the Raiders the Wechsler Cup, named for late Upper Valley youth sports enthusiast Jim Wechsler. A longtime coach at Lebanon’s Sacred Heart School, he was also the executive director of the Twin State Lions Cup soccer program, a New Hampshire assistant state commissioner for Babe Ruth baseball, organized and ran the Lebanon Lions Club’s annual bicycle rodeo, served three terms on the Lebanon school board and was on the Carter Community Building’s board of trustees for more than 25 years. He was a foster father to three teenage sons… Hansen said he’s received college admissions acceptances to UNH, UVM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He’s also applied to Boston University and Northeastern and a few Ivy League institutions he declined to identify for fear of jinxing his chances… Matte said he expects to face ConVal (2-1) in the playoff opener. He said the Courgars’ top player only began competing last week and that makes for an unpredictable matchup with a foe that went 17-1 last year. “I don’t know what to expect but it’s exciting,” Matte said.
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