AAA Semifinals - Event Recap
#4 Maine Central Institute (ME) 87 #1 Brewster (NH) 68
In Friday’s first semifinal, featuring an MCI team that advanced with a one-point, 85-84 victory over fifth-seeded Northfield Mount Hermon on Wednesday against top-seeded and defending New England Champion Brewster, the two teams would lock up early in a physical, up-and-down affair highlighted by elite shot-making and multiple lead changes. With Harvard-bound Max Hooper coming off the bench to spark a sluggish Brewster offense with two quick threes, MCI would answer with a series of perimeter jumpers and take a 19-18 lead on a bucket from Neal Beshears with just under 10 minutes remaining in the opening half. Indiana State-commit Khristian Smith would electrify the crowd minutes later with a thunderous, two-hand dunk from the left baseline over a late-rotating Brewster defender, giving the Huskies their biggest lead of the game, at 25-20, with eight minutes to play before halftime. A corner three from Connecticut-native and Franklin Pierce-commit Ryen Vilmont (three first half threes) would push the MCI lead to eight, at 30-22, with under four minutes remaining, and, following an exchange of threes from Hooper and Vilmont on ensuring possessions, MCI would take a 12-point lead, at 37-25, on a mid-range pull-up from Adrian Rogers. Daishon Knight and St. John’s-commit Jakarr Sampson would trade baskets in the half’s closing minutes and MCI would eventually maintain a 39-27 lead heading into the break.
Bursting out of the locker room with a heightened sense of urgency, Brewster would quickly cut the lead to single digits, at 43-36, behind a top-of-the-circle three from Kansas-bound Naadir Tharpe and a pair of free-throws from Mitch McGary. A corner three from Elijah Carter off Tharpe penetration would keep the Bobcats’ deficit at five, at 50-45, but an explosive, five-point scoring spree from Rogers would extend the MCI lead back to ten, at 55-45, with just over 13 minutes remaining. Rogers would bury a deep three to give MCI its biggest lead of the game, at 63-50, with 10:30 remaining, and, after back-to-back inside hoops for Brewster, a transition dunk from Rogers and two Beshears’ free-throws would push the spread to 14, at 68-54, with just over eight minutes to play. Knight would knock-down a 15-foot jumper from the left baseline to put MCI up 16, at 76-60, before Smith would find Brown-commit Rafael Maia on a nice high-low feed to push the lead to 17, at 78-61, with 2:30 to play. Despite an alley-oop dunk from Sampson and a desperation three from Tharpe, MCI would convert on a series of late free-throws and hang on for a convincing, 87-68 victory over the defending New England and National Prep Champions.
Rogers led MCI with a game-high 20 points, with Knight and Smith adding 16 and 15 respectively to go along with outstanding floor games from the lead guard and small-forward positions. Sampson finished with a team-high 18 for Brewster, including a series of highlight-reel finishes, with Carter adding 12 as the only other Bobcat player to reach double-figures.
#3 New Hampton (NH) 59 #2 St. Thomas More (CT) 56
With the gym buzzing after MCI’s convincing upset of top-seed Brewster in Friday’s opening game, third-seeded New Hampton would take on second-seed St. Thomas More in a highly-contested match-up loaded with blue-chip talent on both rosters. Following a monster dunk in traffic from UMass-bound Jordan Laguerre, former Penn-commit Will Davis would cap an 8-0 New Hampton run with a prolific dunk off an out-of-bounds lob play to put the Huskies up four, at 18-14, with under 10 minutes remaining in the half. Back-to-back hoops from St. Thomas More’s Andre Drummond would cut the New Hampton lead to one, at 21-20, with under six minutes remaining before halftime, before back-to-back threes from Christian Walck and Indiana Faithful would give the Chancellor’s a four-point advantage, at 28-24, with 4:30 left to play in the opening half. New Hampton would answer with a pair of threes from UNC-Greensboro-commit Nick Paulos and future Lafayette Leopard Joey Ptasinski to take a 32-30 advantage, but a driving lay-up from Whis Grant at the first-half buzzer would pull St. Thomas More back even and tie the game at 32 heading into the break.
With New Hampton jumping out to an early six-point lead on a three from Laguerre and a series of free-throws following an intentional foul in transition, St. Thomas More would answer with a three from Faithful and a transition bucket from Damion Lee to pull back within one, at 39-38, with five minutes gone in the half. With the game tied at 42, Oliver Hanlan would score on a pretty driving lay-up from the right wing to put New Hampton up a deuce, before a catch-and-shoot jumper from Lee and a three from Fairfield-bound Adam Jones would put the Chancellor’s up three, at 47-44, with just over eight minutes left to play. New Hampton would respond with a pair of threes from Travis Souza and Laguerre to retake the lead, at 50-47, but St. Thomas More would respond with a series of inside buckets from Jones and a pair of Grant free-throws to regain the lead, at 56-55, with just over two minutes to play. A knifing lay-up from Hanlan in transition off a Chancellor’s turnover would give the Huskies the lead back, at 57-56, with less than 1:30 to play, before Nick Paulos would hit a crucial pull-up jumper off a well-design side out-of-bounds play to give New Hampton a three-point cushion, at 59-56, with 13.9 seconds left to play. St. Thomas More would have two chances on its final possession, but a last-second three-point attempt from Jones would bounce off the back rim and New Hampton would hang on for a thrilling, 59-56 victory.
Laguerre led New Hampton with 19 points, to go along with 16 from Paulos and 10 from Hanlan. Lee finished with a game-high 24 points for St. Thomas More, with Drummond adding 10 points in a losing effort.
Daishon Knight (MCI)- Finishing with a team-high 20 points on a series of acrobatic drives to the basket and timely shots from behind the arc, Knight showed off the elite athleticism and explosive scoring ability that has him generating a solid amount of mid-major interest as an attacking lead guard. With a strong, creative handle and nice feel, Knight controlled tempo with his bounce, attacked efficiently in transition, and found open teammates for high-percentage looks in the second half to extend his team’s lead and eventually help MCI knock off heavily-favored Brewster.
Khristian Smith (MCI)- As steady as he is talented, the six-foot-six, future Indiana State Sycamore hit big shot after big shot against Brewster on Friday, using his quickness and intelligence to operate efficiently in-and-around the paint and score on a variety of face-up moves and mid-range jumpers. A confident player known for making great decisions with the basketball and rarely turning it over, Smith (15 points) rose to the challenge against Brewster’s imposing group of frontline players and consistently made positive plays in the second half to negate any chance of a late Brewster comeback.
Adrian Rogers (MCI)- Joining Knight to form a relentlessly attacking backcourt tandem that pushed the pace in transition and knocked down shots from the perimeter, the six-foot-four wing impressed with a smooth stroke from the perimeter and a polished mid-range pull-up that he used to score consistently at the second level in front of size. Finishing with 18 points on several crucial buckets that always seemed to quiet a potential Brewster run, Rogers’ supreme length and dynamic first-step makes him a tough cover for defenders unable to match his athleticism and skill-level on the perimeter.
Jakarr Sampson (Brewster)- One of the few offensive bright spots for a Brewster team that never seemed to gain a fluid offensive rhythm in Friday’s loss to MCI, the St. John’s commit was a handful to deal with around the hoop with his superior length and explosive leaping ability in traffic. Finishing with a team-high 18 points on multiple above-the-rim finishes off lobs and put-backs, Sampson did his best to will his team back into the game in the second half with his energy and explosiveness attacking the rim.
Jordan Laguerre (New Hampton)- Capable of taking over a game with his dynamic one-on-one scoring ability, Laguerre (team-high 19 points) wowed the crowd in the first half on Friday with a prolific, one-hand dunk over a St. Thomas More defender who made the mistake of trying to jump with him in traffic. More than just an explosive athlete, the future UMass Minuteman shakes defenders with quick, change-of-direction crossover combinations and, while still more of a rhythm shooter than he is a knock-down perimeter threat, he can make defenders pay for giving him too much space with a smooth stroke from behind the arc.
Will Davis (New Hampton)- A long, bouncy athlete on the interior at six-foot-seven, the former Pennsylvania-commit will simply out-jump defenders to finish above the rim, pin shots against the glass, and rebound the ball in traffic on both ends. Davis showed impressive toughness in bodying St. Thomas More center Andre Drummond on the low block and will only continue to improve as an imposing physical presence with some added muscle to his slender frame.
Nick Paulos (New Hampton)- A long, lanky perimeter scorer at six-foot-seven, the UNC-Greensboro-commit showed off his elite shot-making ability from three in the first half of New Hampton’s win over St. Thomas More, converting on a multiple catch-and-shoot opportunities en route to 11 points before halftime. Paulos (16 points, four threes) is a rangy athlete with the length and quickness to cover multiple spots on the defensive end and the will to get out in passing lanes and force turnovers that lead to easy run outs in transition.
Damion Lee (St. Thomas More)- An explosive scorer in transition with a much improved perimeter skill-set, the six-foot-six Baltimore-native attacked the basket with conviction in Friday’s match-up with New Hampton, scoring on a series of explosive finishes through contact from bigger defenders. A capable perimeter shooter with a stroke to be honored out to the line, Lee (game-high 24 points) uses an explosive initial jab to create space for a strong baseline rip or direct burst over his defender’s top side to the middle.
Andre Drummond (St. Thomas More)- While he failed to convert on multiple easy buckets at the rim in Friday’s match-up with New Hampton, the six-foot ten center impressed with his mobility and high activity level near the rim. With unmatched size and athleticism, Drummond (10 points) blocked shots with flare, rebounded the ball in traffic, and showed the ability to be a dominant low-post scorer when he committed himself to catching the ball with his defender on his back near the basket.
#4 Maine Central Institute (ME) 87 #1 Brewster (NH) 68
#3 New Hampton (NH) 59 #2 St. Thomas More (CT) 56