By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – The Lebanon High boys basketball team’s reward for defeating last season’s NHIAA Division II co-champion on Thursday? A date with the other co-champion Saturday. Both clashes will occur during the current postseason’s first two rounds.
Friday’s 54-37 defeat of visiting ConVal in the preliminary-round earned the Raiders (12-0) the right to host Bow on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the quarterfinals. The Falcons advanced by beating Hanover on Friday.
Lebanon post player Nyeoti Punni, a junior who came off the bench most of the regular season, started and had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Classmate Braeden Falzarano had 14 points and despite several turnovers, displayed his uncanny ability to drive through traffic and wiggle his way to the hoop for scores.
“We played really well in the first quarter and (ConVal) played really well in the second quarter,” said Lebanon coach Kieth Matte, noting the Falcons packed their defenders in the lane and often only guarded four Raiders in close fashion.
“We just had to be patient and play slow and realize that if they’re all standing in front of the rim, you’re not going to get a layup.”
Karsten Hansen had 9 points for the hosts and Jack Stone had 8. Calvin Bates had 6 points and C.J. Childs had 4. Wyatt Davis led ConVal with 9 points.
“We have a lot of capable scorers on our team so it’s my job to be an energy guy, play defense and get rebounds,” said Punni, who also drained a 3-point shot. “I just try to do my role, but coach also believes in me as a scorer. I haven’t been shooting well recently so it was nice to see the ball go in the hoop.”
Lebanon burst to a 14-2 lead a minute into the second quarter. However, it led only 21-17 at halftime and allowed the Cougars to pull within 24-22 midway through the third quarter.
“We just couldn’t get the ball to roll into the hoop,” said fourth-year ConVal coach Leo Gorshgorin, who lost six seniors to graduation after last season. “We had fought back twice by that point and really needed to get (the lead) to give us that little, extra energy.”
Said Punni: “We let up on defense in the second quarter and weren’t getting back and weren’t getting the boards. Coach said we had to go back to playing the way we started.”
The Raiders scored the next six points, nine of the next 11 and 13 of the next 15. Game over.
“They’re so disciplined and so meticulous,” said Gorshgorin, whose team finished the season 4-5. “You have to be ready to defend for 30, 40 seconds during a possession. They have a bunch of guys who can do a little bit of everything.”
The repeated outbursts of ConVal’s Isaiah Michaels were another factor. The senior fouled out on a fourth-quarter technical and was led into an adjacent hallway by a teammate to calm down. The Cougar returned to the bench and sat with his head in his hands as his final high school basketball contest expired.
After missing several early shots and visibly disagreeing with foul calls, Michaels shouted an expletive and on two different occasions punched the floor with force heard throughout the gym. As the second quarter’s final horn sounded, he made a beeline for one of the referees but was headed off by an assistant coach.
Michaels, roughly 6-foot-2 and well-muscled, finished with 8 points but was the recipient of a lengthy, sideline lecture from Gorshgorin before the second half’s start. Bogged down by foul trouble, Michaels didn’t re-enter the game until a minute remained in the third quarter.
The guard earned his fourth foul by slinging Punni to the floor as the pair wrestled for the ball with 2 minutes, 35 seconds to play. Michaels then bounced into a squatting position and smashed both fists into the floor simultaneously – three times in a row. That earned the technical and brought Gorshgorin onto the floor to try and calm his irate player.
“He’s a fantastic kid but he wears his emotions on his sleeve,” Gorshgorin said. “He was frustrated early that he wasn’t getting (foul calls) and that boiled over.”
Matte said Michaels’ absences affected the outcome. The Raiders played well defensively but not having to worry about No. 3 for much of the night was a bonus.
“He’s a specimen,” Matte said. “Him not being able to play in the third quarter hurt them. I told our players to leave him alone. There can be a tendency to try and rattle a guy’s cage, but we just wanted to play basketball.”
Notes: Punni said he’s thinking about applying to Penn State, Syracuse and the University of Miami. His older sister attends the latter institution and has given it strong reviews… Matte said Falzarano’s strength is, well, his strength. “He’s as strong as an ox,” the coach said of a player who also pitches and plays outfield in baseball. “When he gets his feet under him before going up for a shot, a knock on the hand or the arm doesn’t bother him.”… ConVal, located in Peterborough, played four teams (Souhegan, Pelham, Milford, Hollis-Brookline) twice each during the regular season and Gorshgorin said he was somewhat surprised the Cougars were placed in a playoff region with Lebanon and Hanover… As after every home game, the Raiders dragged out and reassembled the folding tables that cover the gym floor by day. The space is used for learning as part of the current academic year’s Covid-19 precautions… Bow is the school that Lebanon defeated in the Division II football quarterfinals last fall. Shortly thereafter, it was announced the Raiders’ season was over because a Falcons player had tested positive for Covid-19. Seven current Lebanon basketball players were on the 2020 football squad.
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