D-II basketball: Pembroke’s run comes to heartbreaking end in semifinals loss to Oyster River

  • Pembroke forward Tyler Smith goes up for a layup against Oyster River forward Cameron Thibodeau druing the second half at UNH on Monday, March 12, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke forward Tyler Smith gets blocked in the waning seconds of overtime against Oyster River on Monday at UNH. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Pembroke guard Jacob Sherman goes up for a layup during the second half against Oyster River guard Maxwell Lewis at UNH on Monday, March 12, 2108. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke forward Brandon Linscott (left) can’€™t believe he’€™s called for a foul with 5.1 seconds left in overtime as the bench (background) is still reacting to the made shot that put them ahead on Monday in the Division II semifinals at UNH. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Pembroke guard Noah Cummings gets off a shot with .2 seconds left on the clock in overtime at the Division II semifinals at UNH on Monday, March 12, 2018. The shot fell short and Oyster River won. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

DURHAM – It’s discouraging enough to watch a chance at victory slip away once. When it happens for a second time, it can be flat out heartbreaking.

The Pembroke boys’ basketball team now knows that feeling all too well.

Seconds away from clinching their spot in the Division II championship game, the third-seeded Spartans felt the sting as No. 7 Oyster River tied the game with a well-designed inbound play at the buzzer. By the time the Bobcats drained two go-ahead free throws after an unintentional foul in the final seconds of overtime for a wild 58-57 victory in Monday’s semifinal at the University of New Hampshire, that sting felt like a full-blown punch to the gut.

“It’s a tough one. You know, we kind of gave it away twice,” said first-year Pembroke coach Rich Otis, whose Spartans led 48-46 with three seconds left in regulation “The first one (in the fourth quarter) we knew and told them during the timeout that it was going to be down in that corner somehow. We didn’t communicate on the screen, the kid stepped up and got loose for a layup. It’s high school basketball and it kind of sucks right now, but I’m extremely proud of the season.”

The one who got loose for the game-tying basket was Oyster River’s Maxwell Lewis – the same player who matched teammate Kyle Landrigan with a game-high 18 points and delivered the game-winning daggers from the charity stripe in overtime.

The inbounds play wasn’t new for Oyster River, it just happened to be the first time it has worked this season.

“I’ve run (that play) for 28 years coaching and I think that was the first time it’s ever really worked the way it’s supposed to work,” said Oyster River coach Lorne Lucas, who’s taken the Bobcats from a 2-16 season last year all the way to this year’s state championship. “When somebody hits a last-second shot, it’s never what anybody drew up because the kids usually go out there and they forget what to do. But we’ve run it five or six times over the year and it worked. They just weren’t nervous and they executed.”

The overtime period itself was a microcosm of the entire game packed into a tidy five minutes.

Noah Cummings (14 points, six assists), who was nearly the hero for Pembroke after a pair of pull-up jumpers in the final minute of the fourth quarter, helped get the offense going in overtime, finding Sean Menard (11 points) inside for two before Menard connected from deep off an assist from Sherman to put the Spartans on top, 53-52.

Lewis responded for Oyster River, sinking two free throws before Landrigan, who scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half, bullied his way through the paint for a layup to make it 56-53 in favor of the Bobcats with less than a minute to go.

In a game with so many wild twists, big shots and dramatic moments, that lead was far from safe and the fans inside Lundholm Gymnasium knew it.

Cummings connected on a free throw and Sherman poked the ball loose for a steal on the next possession before lining up and sinking an NBA-range 3 for yet another lead change – the 11th of the game.

Sherman (team-high 18 points), like everybody else on the floor, failed to make a 3 in the first half as the two sides went a combined 0-for-11 from deep. The senior found his stroke with four 3s in the second half, though, none bigger than the last one.

“I can’t say enough about Jake,” Otis said. “He’s just a gamer. He’s a cowboy, you know. He just has a flair for big shots and we’re going to miss him an awful lot. He really does a lot of for us on the offensive end of the floor.”

Pembroke’s celebration, though, came to an abrupt end.

Almost immediately after Sherman’s big shot, the Spartans accidentally fouled Oyster River to send Lewis to the line with 3.9 seconds to play. Lewis made both free throws to help Oyster River regain the lead for good as Cumming’s got off a decent look at the buzzer that didn’t fall.

“My knees I think were shaking at that point. His weren’t. It’s who he is,” Lucas said of Lewis’s composure in the final minutes.

“I think it was a simple reaction, (Brandon Linscott) just kind of ran into him, tried to get out the other kids’ way and it was right in front of the official,” Otis said of the late foul. “Brandon’s pretty upset about it right now, and understandably so, but he’s won us a lot more games than he’s lost us, believe me.”

Otis also said he wasn’t harping on one play, especially after the way things started for the Spartans.

Pembroke turned the ball over on each of its first four possessions, shot 3-for-13 in the first quarter and trailed 12-7 as the Spartans tried to eliminate the nerves on the big stage.

Fortunately for Pembroke, the Bobcats weren’t used to playing this late into the year either. Oyster River went just 5 of 15 in the opening quarter and finished the half shooting 30 percent from the floor as the Spartans led, 20-18 at the half.

“It was our first time down here, we were pretty nervous in the first half,” Otis said. “It was a 12-7 game for quite awhile and we acted like it was 22-7 by coming down and jacking up shots, turning the ball over. But once we settled down, got running a bit and got going into the flow of the offense, we did pretty good.”

Oyster River’s season continues with a championship tilt against No. 1 Hollis-Brookline on Saturday at UNH. Pembroke’s season ends in heartbreak, but the big picture wasn’t lost on Otis.

“We had eight wins last year. I think 17-5 is our overall record now and we made it to the final four,” Otis said. “I know the kids don’t want to hear all this stuff right now, but I’m extremely proud of the season we had. It sucks the way things ended, but for a team that was winless in Division II two years ago, to eight wins last year, to 17 this year. I’m extremely proud.”

(Jay McAree can be reached at 369-3371, jmcaree@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JayMcAree.)