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Previewing the Div. II Boys' Basketball Final: Bobcats, Cavs are evolving

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 17. 2018 1:43AM

Hollis/Brookline's Matt Simco shoots as Merrimack Valley's Kyle Dube defends him during the Cavaliers' 46-43 win in the Division II semifinals Monday night at UNH in Durham. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader)

There was a great deal of emotion for both Hollis/Brookline and Oyster River of Durham following their Division II boys’ basketball semifinal wins on Monday night.

On one hand, you have the top-seeded Cavaliers, who gutted out a late triumph in regulation to take care of unfinished business following a loss in the semifinals last season. The seventh-seeded Bobcats, who won just two games last season, rose from certain defeat twice to keep their season alive in an overtime win.

Such hard-nosed, draining efforts raise the question: Does either team have anything left in the tank for today’s 3 p.m. title game at UNH’s Lundholm Gymnasium?

“The snow day was actually kind of nice for us, I think,” said Oyster River coach Lorne Lucas, who read articles and watched film the morning after the win to pass time during Tuesday’s snowstorm. “I told them by 10 a.m. though, that I could not have cared less (about the semifinal win). Then we got back to practice (Wednesday) and the kids were focused and ready. There wasn’t any hangover.”

Aside from obvious momentum, Oyster River essentially gets a home game with Lundholm Gym 1.4 miles away. The Bobcats carry an aggressive style of play on both ends of the floor that is enhanced by their depth. That style will not suit Hollis/Brookline, which relies on a slow pace and a strong interior presence.

Lucas admitted his Bobcats waited too long to get after the Cavaliers in their regular-season tilt, which Hollis/Brookline took 67-58 back on Feb. 16. Oyster River waited until the fourth quarter to install a full-court press, which got the Bobcats as close as six points in their attempt to come back from an early deficit.

“They can definitely be pressured,” Lucas said. “Watching them at times is like watching a team from 1986 before they had the 3-point line. They pound the ball inside and attack the basket. They’re disciplined and tough.”

Hollis/Brookline’s Matt Dowling goes to the hoop in the Cavaliers’ win in the Division II semifinals Monday night at UNH. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader)

Forwards Matt Simco and Matt Dowling dominated the paint in that regular-season win for the Cavaliers, combining for 41 points. Cavaliers coach Cole Etten expects Oyster River to mark Simco and Dowling, understanding both teams have evolved since their last matchup.

“We have to prepare for everything,” Etten said. “We’ve already played them once, but there’s a lot to learn. … It was a long time ago and we need to learn from our mistakes.”

Guard play will make the difference for both teams. With Oyster River likely to show full-court pressure from the onset, Jon Brackett and Grant Snyder are going to need to value the basketball more than they have all season. Brackett, who shows as more of a forward at 6-foot-2, is the Cavaliers’ best ballhandler, leaving his decisions and ball protection as the most important factor to Hollis/Brookline’s fortunes.

Kyle Landrigan are Joe Morrell are the names to watch in Oyster River’s backcourt. Landrigan played well in the semifinals, with timely conversions while offering a defensive presence on the ball and the defensive glass. Morrell was somewhat silent with just six points in the semifinals, but Lucas tickets the sophomore to rise up on Saturday.

“Pembroke did an unbelievable job on Joe (in the semifinals),” Lucas said. “They were right on top of him for everything he had. There’s going to be an opportunity here though. I think he’ll have chances to get open a bit and run the floor, where he is at his best.”

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