Pembroke falters in fourth as 31-game winning streak ends
Pembroke's Patrick Welch attempts a shot over Portsmouth defense during the game between the schools on January 30, 2014 at Pembroke Academy. Pembroke lost to Portsmouth 53-49.
ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff
Pembroke's Jordan Williams drives the ball in the game against Portsmouth on January 30, 2014 at Pembroke Academy.
ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff
PEMBROKE – As Pembroke Academy marched to last year’s Division II boys’ basketball championship, the student section liked to chant “We undefeated, we undefeated!” But the Spartans won’t be singing that tune any more after last night’s 53-49 loss to Portsmouth.
The loss snapped a 31-game winning streak for Pembroke (9-1). The Spartans’ last defeat came on March 10, 2012, when Coe-Brown pulled off a 57-52 upset in the D-II quarterfinals.
It was pressure that unglued Pembroke last night. The Portsmouth defense deserves most of the credit for applying it – the Clippers (7-2) kept the Spartans 22.6 points below their scoring average, forced 11 second-half turnovers and held Pembroke to 3-for-25 3-point shooting. But the pressure of being unbeaten may have also played a role.
“We obviously wanted to go undefeated,” said Pat Welch, who faced box-and-1 and double-team defense all night but still had 15 points for the Spartans. “But we weren’t talking about pressure being on us, but there probably was.”
Portsmouth, on the other hand, was playing with the loose emotion of an underdog in a fight it wanted.
“We played Tuesday night against Goffstown and the second the game ended everyone was like, ‘Who’s guarding who, who’s guarding who?’ But that’s a tribute to Pembroke’s program,” Clippers Coach Jim Mulvey said. “And it isn’t just us, everybody in the state looks up to them and would like to play them. We like the challenge and we’d rather play them every night than somebody else.”
Some of the Portsmouth players had been anticipating this game for longer than a couple days, a lot longer.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game all year,” said Clippers senior point guard Nick Mackey, who finished with a game-high 19 points and three assists. “I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I saw them play my freshman year.”
The heightened intensity from both sides was evident just 21 seconds after tip-off when Mackey was whistled for a holding foul on Welch, and Welch was called for a technical for his response to the hold. It was clear that all the media members, coaches and fans who filled the Pembroke gym were about to get the kind of game they wanted.
The back-and-forth action translated onto the scoreboard as the lead changed hands five times in the first quarter, which ended in a 15-15 tie. Jordan Williams (16 points, 13 rebounds), offensive rebounding and interior defense helped Pembroke edge out to a 28-24 halftime lead. All of Portsmouth’s nine second-quarter points came from beyond the arc, a plan that came from necessity more than design.
“I really didn’t want to (rely on the 3), but they’re so darn big and so good in the interior we really didn’t get many looks on the inside,” Mulvey said.
Despite all the defensive attention on him, Welch found a bit of rhythm to start the second half with a pair of 3-pointers, giving Pembroke’s its biggest lead of the game, 34-26, with 6:15 left in the third quarter. The Clippers answered with a 7-2 run fueled by Mackey to pull themselves closer, and the third ended with Pembroke up, 41-37. The Spartans may have held the lead, but the pace belonged to the Clippers.
“When I walked in the gym someone from Pembroke said the game will be in the 70s and I said, ‘If it’s in the 70s, we’re in big trouble,’ ” Mulvey said. “So it was exactly where we wanted it. From the beginning to the end, it was our pace.”
And during the fourth quarter the cumulative effect of that pace and Portsmouth’s relentless and physical defense took its toll on Pembroke. The Clippers went on a 7-0 run to start the fourth as the Spartans turned it over on seven of their first eight possession and didn’t score until Welch hit a pair of free throws with 4:08 left to pull his team to within one, 44-43.
“We had an off night shooting, and we didn’t go to the hoop enough,” Welch said, “but the turnovers really hurt and they came from not being able to get into our plays like we usually do. We just weren’t focused enough.”
Portsmouth opened up a 49-45 lead after a layup from Pat Glynn (five points, all in the fourth) on a nice feed from De’vonn Wilson-Miles (11 points, five rebounds, two assists) with 1:29 left. A drive from Williams with 53.1 seconds remaining cut that lead to two, but the Spartans couldn’t hit the big shot they needed in the final minute and the Clippers made just enough free throws (4-for-8) to seal the win.
“We went cold and they capitalized,” Pembroke Coach Matt Alosa said. “Our guys other than Pat need to be more aggressive when they’re double teaming him and the guy that’s loose needs to attack the basket instead of settling for outside shots. … Portsmouth, for me, has the best help-side defense in the league where they really do a good job of shutting off the baseline. You’ve got to make an extra pass from there, and we really didn’t do it.”
The Spartans were not pleased to see their winning streak end, but they plan to make the most of it.
“It might be good to get the loss out of the way and keep going and get better,” Welch said.
“It’s going to bode well for us later in the year,” Alosa said. “One, because we’ve seen them and then two, now we know how to go about certain things. We know what to do and what not to do.”
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)