Boys’ basketball: Hopkinton runs out of steam in D-III semifinal loss to unbeaten Gilford

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-23-2023 10:37 AM

GOFFSTOWN – Hopkinton head coach Matt Miller prepared his team for Wednesday night’s semifinal against undefeated Gilford as if they were about to hit the slot machines in Vegas.

They were the team without much experience. They were not supposed to be a game away from reaching the Division III championship.

“We’re at the casino, we’ve made our money back,” he told his guys. “Let’s take our winnings, throw it on red and see what happens. These guys did.”

Yet, it still wasn’t enough. The Hawks fell 62-42.

Trailing 18-9 at the end of the first, the No. 4 Hawks (14-5) rallied back to cut the No. 1 Golden Eagles’ lead to 30-27 at the half.

Junior Will Tanuvasa opened the third with a steal-and-score to make it 30-29, but that’s the closest the Hawks came. Gilford (21-0) ultimately outscored Hopkinton 32-15 in the second half to lock up the win and a trip to the D-III championship game at Keene State College on Saturday.

Gilford’s Jalen Reese led all scorers in the game with 24 points; Tanuvasa led Hopkinton with 11. Gavin Davies also turned in a strong performance in his final game with the Hawks, with nine points and 10 rebounds; Hopkinton’s Abram Standefer corralled 10 boards and scored seven points.

“We ran out of steam,” Miller said. “I think we’re a team with fantastic athletes everywhere. (Gilford’s) a team with phenomenal athletes everywhere. When we ran out of steam, they were catching another gear and got themselves going.”

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By the fourth quarter, Hopkinton’s shots barely grazed the rim – if they reached that far at all. Miller relied heavily on his five starters for most of the game, and against a Gilford team littered with height (the Golden Eagles only had one player who played significant minutes under six feet), matching up was a challenge, especially for guards Tanuvasa (5-6) and Noah Aframe (5-7).

“There’s nothing you can do to create height,” said Miller. “It’s just about being tough. We have a couple of the toughest backcourt guards in the division. They’re going to battle for it, and if they’re going to battle for it, the bigger guy’s gotta battle for it. We had to make up for our deficiencies in size by being the hardest-working group out there consistently.”

The loss stings, as does any that ends a season. But for Miller wrapping up his first year as the program’s head coach, there’s no shortage of reasons for optimism about what the future holds.

Hopkinton graduates three seniors, including Davies, but will return four of its five starters from this year’s team. The fact the Hawks made it this far to begin with despite this level of inexperience speaks volumes of Miller’s abilities as a coach.

“To get them here and get them that experience as juniors and sophomores is huge for what next year’s gonna be and the year after that and the direction I want to take the program under my coaching and my style,” he said.

“We were right there,” he added. “Now let’s get better, so next time, we are there.”

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