Boys’ basketball: John Stark stuns MV at the buzzer in overtime, Generals ‘having some fun’ after multi-year rebuild

John Stark senior Elliot Belliveau takes the game-winning shot at the end of overtime to give the Generals the 67-64 victory over Merrimack Valley on Thursday.

John Stark senior Elliot Belliveau takes the game-winning shot at the end of overtime to give the Generals the 67-64 victory over Merrimack Valley on Thursday. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

John Stark’s Elliot Belliveau celebrates his buzzer beater to win the game for the Generals, 67-64, in overtime at Merrimack Valley on Thursday.

John Stark’s Elliot Belliveau celebrates his buzzer beater to win the game for the Generals, 67-64, in overtime at Merrimack Valley on Thursday. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

MV senior Trevor Simonds dribbles past John Stark senior Logan Montgomery during Thursday's game.

MV senior Trevor Simonds dribbles past John Stark senior Logan Montgomery during Thursday's game. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Junior Joey Dykstra (12) attempts to block a shot attempt from MV senior Logan Gabour on Thursday.

Junior Joey Dykstra (12) attempts to block a shot attempt from MV senior Logan Gabour on Thursday. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 01-19-2024 4:43 AM

PENACOOK – As the John Stark Generals swarmed senior Elliot Belliveau on the court after his game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime to pull off the upset Thursday night at Merrimack Valley, 67-64, there was more jubilation in that brief moment than the program had experienced over the previous few years combined. 

John Stark boys’ basketball was dreadful last year. The Generals started the season 0-16 and finished the regular season with just one win in 18 games. The year before, they also finished 1-17.

Entering Thursday night’s makeup game with Merrimack Valley, John Stark had already doubled its win total from 2022-23. By the end of the night, the Generals had tripled it.

“I was very proud of how they played,” Generals head coach Mike Smith said. “When you’re a team where we’re at, and the last couple seasons have been rough, we’re learning how to win and learning how to play together. (Tonight’s) going to go a long way toward building that message. It was so many guys who made so many big plays. Like I told them in the huddle with about a minute to go I’m like, ‘This is fun. Now we’re having some fun. It’s not a 30-point game or something like that.’ That’s a really good Merrimack Valley team, and for us to go and beat them here, that’s the best win we’ve had in a few seasons.”

Trailing 36-24 at halftime, a win seemed far from likely for the visiting Generals (3-5). But after cleaning up the turnovers in the second half that had plagued them in the latter stretch of the first, John Stark cut MV’s lead to just 44-41 by the end of the third quarter. 

In the fourth, Belliveau nailed a 3-pointer to give John Stark a 57-56 lead with 55 seconds remaining. The Pride (4-4) forced overtime, but the Generals never wavered.

“I think the guys have a different energy,” Smith said of what makes this group different from past teams. “They’re more committed to each other. When you play on a losing team sometimes, it’s really easy to get frustrated and to try to do things by yourself. I think what we’re really starting to see out there is a lot of trust.”

It’s an ongoing process. The pandemic years severely harmed the program, Smith said, and he regrets the lack of a game plan he had for getting things back on track after things returned to normal. But the tide seems to finally be turning.

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Parents have hosted team dinners, the players have bought into building their relationships off the court and the community’s recognized the importance of supporting the program.

“It’s been really important to us to start playing the right way again,” Smith said of the support the program’s received. “I think tonight shows you, we didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but guys made big plays when it counted because they had trust in each other to make those big plays.”

Junior guard Hayden Pond led the Generals with 14 points; Belliveau had 13; sophomore forward Aiden Harris had 11. Overall, John Stark had 10 different players score in the game.

Meanwhile, MV senior Logan Gabour led all scorers in the game with 18 points. Senior Trevor Simonds and junior Aiden Gray added 10 each as well.

It was a dispiriting loss for a Pride team that had pieced together a three-game winning streak after a 1-3 start to the season. Leading for most of the game, MV just couldn’t put the game out of reach when it had the chance.

“We were sluggish. Totally outplayed tonight on both sides of the ball,” head coach Tim Mucher said. “Just wasn’t our night. We’re getting everyone’s best, and Mike (Smith) did a nice job tonight, and his kids outworked us, out-toughed us.”

Outworking and out-toughing teams will need to be the recipe for John Stark’s success the rest of the way. The Generals might not have talent that matches up precisely with some of the top programs in Division II, but replicating the grit and tenacity they brought to the MVHS gym on Thursday night should certainly produce more positive results as the season moves forward.

“Just a team effort,” Smith said. “As much as Elliot made great plays, Aiden Harris hit a big 3, guys made great defensive plays. I thought Hayden Pond played one of his better games, Joey Dykstra defensively. We just, I thought, did a really nice job tonight.”