After chasing title for years, seniors lead Pembroke to D-II boys’ basketball championship 

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  • Noah Cummings (1) hoists up the Division II trophy with his teammates after winning the championship at UNH on Saturday, March 16, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Kearsarge didn’ have answer for Noah Cummings in the first half as he drove to the basket and scored or was fouled on Saturday, March 16, 2019 at UNH. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke guard plows threw the Kearsarge defense in the first half as guard Jeffrey Wagner (3) tries to stop him at the Division II championship at UNH on Saturday, March 16, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke guard Sean Menard goes up for a layup during the first half of the Division II championship against Kearsarge guard Nick LeBlanc on Saturday, March 16, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke forward Kyle Roukey (right) hugs teammate Noah Cummings after the Spartans won the Division II state championship on Saturday, March 16, 2019 at UNH. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke teammates Jack Lehoulier (left), Sean Menard (center) and Noah Cummings celebrate with head coach Rich Otis after the Spartans won the Division II state championship at UNH on Saturday, March 16, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Noah Cummings (1) hoists up the Division II trophy with his teammates after winning the Division II state championship at UNH on Saturday, March 16, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke guard Noah Cummings hoists up the Division II state championship tropy as teammate Kyle Roukey (2) claps after the Spartans beat Kearsarge on Saturday, March 16, 2019 at UNH. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Noah Cummings passes over the Division II state champions trophy to Jack Lehoullier so he can kiss it after the Spartans won on Saturday, March 16, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Jack Lehoulier (left) reacts after getting to kiss the Division II state championship trophy after the Spartans won on Saturday, March 16, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/16/2019 5:59:35 PM

DURHAM – They’ve been hearing about defense all season. They heard about it all last season, too. On Saturday, all the practice and preaching paid off for the Pembroke Academy boys’ basketball team. 

“That’s been the story for two years with coach (Rich) Otis and Joe (Drinon) and all the coaches, they just pound defense every day,” Pembroke senior Noah Cummings said. “So, we knew that’s what was going to win it at UNH, especially today, so we came out and played our defense and I think we did it really well.”

They certainly did. The Spartans held No. 9 Kearsarge to just two points in the second quarter and 33.3 percent shooting for the game as they defended their way to a 47-35 win in the Division II championship game at the University of New Hampshire.

“Pembroke has athletes and they’ve got the ability to defensively pressure you and push you into places you don’t want to be and force you into decisions you don’t want to make, so tip my hat to them,” Kearsarge coach Nate Camp said. “They proved tonight that they deserved to be state champions.”

Senior guard Noah Tremblay averaged 19.3 points for Kearsarge (13-9) during its first three playoff games, but PA held him to just nine points on Saturday at UNH’s Lundholm Gymnasium. That was still tied for the team high with Kyle Hernon and Ben Carl because no Cougar reached double digits against the No. 3 Spartans (21-1).

“We’ve been good all year defensively, so to finish it off with what we preach every day in practice, it’s a good feeling,” Otis said.

Pembroke has been good on all parts of the court all year. After losing a heartbreaker in overtime in the semifinals last year, the Spartans came into this season with a sharpened focus. They won the first five games of the regular season and were runners-up at the Capital Area Holiday Tournament in December. They lost to Pelham on Jan. 11, but after that they won 16 straight, the last one fulfilling a goal that went back to last year and beyond.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a year because of the semifinals last year, but really been waiting forever because I watched all those guys do it when I was young, the 2013, 2014 teams (from Pembroke that won titles),” said Cummings, the D-II Player of the Year who finished with a game-high 18 points on Saturday. “So really it’s been a lifelong goal to win it. I made an art project when I was in sixth grade saying future state champion PA, now it’s finally come true and I couldn’t be happier.”

The Cinderella Cougars, who upset No. 1 Oyster River in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Merrimack Valley in the semifinals, hung with the favored Spartans in the opening quarter of the final. Hernon scored eight of his nine points in the first while Cummings and Sean Menard, PA’s two 1,000-point scorers, had six each and the game was tied, 12-12, after one.

“I felt like we were ready to go and we had a really good first quarter,” Camp said, “but that second quarter was tough.”

Tremblay scored 1:11 into the second on an athletic layup in transition, but those were the last points the Cougars would score in the first half. They went 1-for-6 from the floor and had five turnovers in the second quarter.

“Defensively we were relying on each other and pressuring the ball. A big part of it was getting up in them and forcing them to make plays they didn’t want to make,” said Pembroke’s senior big man Jack Lehoullier, who had two points and seven rebounds and was a major reason why Hernon only had one board.

PA junior Shea Shackford took a charge against Tremblay about two minutes into the second quarter, drawing the third foul on Kearsarge’s leading scorer. So Tremblay came out of the game with about six minutes left in the second and his team down by five points. When he came back in with 2:36 left in the second, his team was down by 14 points, 28-14.

Cummings had a lot to do with the lead ballooning that quickly. The senior was shaking and baking every defender the Cougars put in front of him and scored eight of his 18 points in the second quarter as the Spartans took a 31-14 lead into the locker room. They also took a lot of excitement into the locker room, but Otis kept it under control.

“We were feeling really good at halftime, coach had to reel us back in a little bit,” Lehoullier said.

Kearsarge made a small push to start the third and had the lead down to 43-30 after a deep 3 from Tremblay midway through the quarter. But the Spartans closed the third with a 6-1 run that was powered by Menard and pushed PA’s lead to 39-21 heading into the fourth.

“(Cummings) carried us in the first half, and every time we need a bucket in the second half, (Menard) seemed to be there,” Otis said.

In the fourth, the Cougars showed the heart that powered them through their string of playoff upsets by making another run as Carl scored seven of his nine points. But the deficit, and Pembroke’s determination were simply too much to overcome.

“We have such grit and character, and that’s why I love this team,” Camp said. “They played their best when their backs were against the wall.”

In some ways, the Spartans have felt like their backs have been against the wall since last year’s semifinal loss to Oyster River. Now, finally, after winning the title they have been chasing for years, they can relax.

“It was worth it, every second,” Cummings said. “This is unbelievable, it’s the best feeling.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20)



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