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Top-seeded Spartans preparing for slowdown against upset-minded Bears

When Coe-Brown traveled to Pembroke Academy last month, the Bears slowed the pace to a near halt. The Spartans won, 43-37, but Pembroke knew Coe-Brown’s strategy was a taste of things to come.

“We’re probably going to see that in the playoffs,” PA Coach Matt Alosa said after that Feb. 15 game. “Someone is going to try that against us. I know I would.”

Alosa was right. The first two playoff opponents both slowed the tempo to keep the ball away from Pembroke’s high-powered offense, but the top-ranked Spartans (20-0) still beat No. 16 St. Thomas, 43-25, and No. 8 Pelham, 47-35. Now Pembroke and Alosa will see exactly what they saw against Coe-Brown last month when they face the No. 12 Bears (10-10) in tonight’s 7:30 semifinal at the University of New Hampshire.

It’s the second straight Cinderella run for Coe-Brown, which reached the semifinals last year as the No. 11 seed by upsetting then-No. 3 Pembroke in the quarterfinals. The Bears used a stingy 3-2 zone to take an early lead in that game last March and hung on for a 57-52 win. The Spartans will see likely see the same zone tonight, but that’s not all they’ll see.

“We have our plan set, but for a team like Pembroke you have to have more than one plan,” Coe-Brown Coach David Smith said. “Even if you start with a 2-3, 3-2, man or special, I think that probably Pembroke has seen every defense possible thrown against them because they’re just so efficient offensively in so many spots, so I don’t think anything we show them is going to surprise them any.

“I just think that we have to execute as well as we’re capable of executing to try to give ourselves an opportunity.”

In an ideal world, Pembroke would play an up-tempo game that gave its outstanding perimeter players – Pat Welch, Matt Persons and Rene Maher – the chance to operate in open space. The Spartans wouldn’t mind a shot clock either, but since that’s not going to happen and this isn’t an ideal world, Alosa is also willing to change his plans as the game unfolds and engage in some coaching cat-and-mouse.

“With no shot clock they will try to slow it down, so our goal is to speed Coe-Brown up, or we’ll just see how it goes,” Alosa said. “I’ll feel it out as it goes because these games can go either way. If we get up early, they won’t be able to pull the ball out, but maybe I will pull it out because we have the guards to keep the ball away.”

Pembroke did go up early when these two met in February, leading 10-3 after the first quarter and 23-14 at halftime. Persons finished with a game-high 19, his final points putting him at 1,000 exactly for his career.

Persons drained five 3-pointers that night, and Pembroke will be hard to beat if he or Welch is hitting like that tonight. But the two of them combined for just eight points in the quarterfinal win against Pelham on Saturday, and the Spartans still found a way to win. They did it by going inside to Kafani Williams (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Dominic Timbas (10 points, seven rebounds), and with the free throw shooting of Maher (13 points, six from the line).

Coe-Brown’s first options are on the inside with senior big men Chris Laurion and Josh Jackman. Jackman had 21 points, six rebounds and four assists in the Bears 54-39 quarterfinal win at No. 12 Windham. Laurion had 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the 66-63 first-round upset over No. 4 Hollis-Brookline. He also had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the regular season loss at Pembroke.

The first concern for Coe-Brown’s perimeter players – Damon Doyle, Andrew Langdon and Beau Pingree – has to be slowing the Spartan guards, but the Bears can generate some outside offense of their own. Langdon has scored a combined 29 in the first two playoff games, Doyle had 17 in the first round, and Pingree scored 12 at Windham, including eight in the fourth.

Laurion and Jackman, and to a lesser degree Doyle, gained some experience during Coe-Brown’s tournament run last year (which ended with a 55-46 semifinal loss to eventual champion Portsmouth), although that team was really powered by four graduated seniors – Tom Darling, Darren Doyon, Corey Gerlt and Skyler Mitchell. Still, there are some similarities between the two seasons.

“I think as far as the overall focus it’s certainly similar, even though it is a different group,” Smith said. “The focus and determination and the confidence to prepare well and to value each possession has certainly been there.”

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