By Peter McClelland
(Henniker) Gordon finished the regular season with their 14th win (against 11 losses) while New England College ended theirs (4-21) with high hopes for the future.
“This is going to be a real tough place to play in a little bit,” said Gordon coach Mike Schauer after the 77-71 Commonwealth Coast Conference victory on Saturday afternoon. “He (NEC coach Charlie Mason) has some real talented players returning next season.”
Gordon’s seniors (Hayes Murray/Ryan Smith) put on a fine afternoon of shooting display and combined for 43 of the Scots 77 points.
This game was played mostly from long range and the result was points being scored in a hurry. And of course during the cooling off period, which taking long-range shots can lead to, the other team can make a significant move. That happened to both teams in this one.
The Pilgrims rode the emotions of senior Pete Nelson’s last game (nice pre-game ceremony) to a fine start. Their patience turned up all sorts of makeable opportunities from inside the arc and when Edin Zajmovic tipped in a miss the home team was ahead 31-23 with seven minutes left in the half. Three minutes later the Pilgrims were still in command 35-28.
Then came a significant cooling off period for NEC and for the next nine minutes all they had to show for their efforts was a buzzer-beating tip-in from Eric Sliney. “That’s the trademark of a young team, “said NEC coach Charlie Mason. “We go through these ups and downs.”
And while NEC was “down” the Scots racked up 27 points including six from beyond the arc – Hayes Murray had three of them. The point explosion sent Gordon ahead 55-37 with 15 minutes left. This started to look like a blowout in the making.
Coach Schauer didn’t see it going that way. “When I saw us build that lead and saw that there were still 15 minutes left I was afraid we’d run out of gas,” The Scots average about 70 points a game so the scoring pace was much hotter than they were used to.
Earlier in the month at Gordon the Pilgrims were down 55-33 early in the second half and couldn’t find a way to fight back. “In this one they played like you do in your last game in front of your home crowd,” said coach Schauer. They gambled, they scrambled, and Gordon entered it’s cooling off period.
Over the next 8+ minutes Gordon had only a lay-up from Mike Herr and a rebound conversion by Hayes Murray. Meanwhile the host team tossed in 20 points sparked by three straight treys from junior Edin Zajmovic. Before you knew it you were watching a ballgame again.
The NEC surge reduced the Scot lead to 59-57 with 6 ½ minutes to play. Anyone’s game but that was when Gordon’s captains (Hayes Murray/Ryan Smith/Scott Allenby) gave the Scots the points they needed for the win.
Hayes is known for this outside shooting but if a defender overplays he can get in closer and do damage. First he drove and made two foul shots and then stepped inside for a short jumper. Ryan added a trey from the corner and made a foul shot after fighting for a rebound. The real killer, however, was Scott Allenby’s trey. The junior had seen limited action in this one because of a foot injury but his 3-pointer pushed the Gordon margin to 70-63 with a little under two minutes left. Jerry Logan followed with four freebies in a row and this one was in the win column.
“We needed to compete and play well to beat this team because they can make shots,” concluded coach Schauer.
Hayes Murray ended up leading all scorers with 24 points and along the way gave the Gordon followers a scare when he went down late in the first half. “I was concerned that it was his groin (again) but he told me it was his knee and that he’d be okay,” said coach Schauer. Those 12 points in the second half had me convinced that he was okay.
In talking about Hayes he added, “I fully expect him to be named to the CCC first team in the voting tomorrow.”
Ryan Smith regained his shooting touch (4 for 7 treys) and ended with 19. Jerry Logan (13 points/6 assists) and Alex Yeats (10 points/8 rebounds) continued to contribute.
Edin Zajmovic (3rd in CCC in 3 point fg%) paced the Pilgrims with 18 including 4 of 6 treys. Senior Pete Nelson closed out his last game with 15 points.
Gordon’s next action will be in the CCC playoffs on the road against Roger Williams or Curry. “I think that Gordon plays as well together as a group as any team in the conference,” said NEC coach Mason when asked about the Scots chances in the postseason. “You throw in their ability to shoot and defend. I wouldn’t want to be playing them!”