Boston High School: Aaron Todd

NEPSAC AA: Cushing 76, Kimball Union 68

March, 2, 2014
Mar 2
BEVERLY, Mass. -- This time, there was no doubt.

After defeating the St. Andrew’s School on a last second buzzer beater by Jalen Adams to win the 2013 NEPSAC Class AA Championship, some were left wondering whether Cushing Academy was a legitimate champion.

The Penguins answered all those questions and doubts Sunday by defeating Kimball Union (N.H.), 76-68, to win back-to-back Class AA championships.

“When you win it on a buzzer beater, there’s always those questions about did you get lucky? Was it a fluke? Did you deserve to win?” said Cushing coach Barry Connors. “The guys in the locker room know of course we did. You come back and win it again, and it sort of validates the first one. It feels even better this time than last year.”

This game featured future college basketball stars on both teams.

Kimball Union’s Abdul-Malik Abu, the No. 32 senior prospect on the ESPN 100, is signed to play at North Carolina State next season. Oliver Tot (9 points, 12 rebounds) will take his talents to William and Mary next year.

Cushing Academy’s Kaleb Joseph, the No. 49 recruit on the ESPN 100, is going to Syracuse to play for coach Jim Boeheim. Jalen Adams, currently the No. 46 junior in the ESPN 60, holds scholarship offers from Division 1 schools such as UConn, Creighton, and Providence.

The Penguins were able to keep Abu in check for the first half, holding him to only four points. In the second half, he was more assertive on the low block. He used his positioning and his muscular frame to out jump the Cushing bigs for rebounds and second-chance points. The senior finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

KUA went on a 9-2 run in the last two minutes of the first half to make the score 37-36. In what became a theme of the game, Cushing’s Connor Gilmore (12 points, 5 rebounds) hit a three before the buzzer.

Gilmore was also charged with defending Abu in the low block for most of the game. The senior held his own for most of the game, but when you are playing against a player like Abu that likes to draw contact, the fouls are bound to pile up. That was the case Sunday as he fouled out of the game with 7:51 remaining.

“He and Aaron Todd (2 points, 4 rebounds) did a tremendous job on the block fighting with Abu,” said Connors. “He’s averaging about 14 points a game for us over the course of the season, but the last 8 games he’s averaging 17 and 10 and he’s been hitting big shots for us.”

Cushing came out with a 12-5 run to open the second half and Kimball was playing catchup from that point on. The closest it cut the deficit to was 63-59 with 4:40 remaining.

A minute later, Abu fouled Adams (16 points, 7 rebounds) as he was going to the basket and was Kimball’s 10th team foul. For the rest of the game, he and Joseph (22 points, 6 rebounds) were at the free throw line extending the team’s lead. The two guards scored their way to a second league championship.

“I think this time around was better because this team got a feeling of what it was like to win,” said Joseph. “Me, Jalen, and Idris Taqqee knew what it was like to win a championship. We knew it wasn’t going to be that easy this year. We had more bumps in the road this year. We fought through it and that’s why it feels a lot better this time.”

Taqqee shines: Lost behind the statistics of future ACC players and future high-major commits was the play of Cushing’s Idris Taqqee. The St. Bonaventure commit dominated the first half of the game, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the opening frame while the defense was focused on stopping Joseph and Adams. He was hitting shots from all over the floor, including two from behind the three-point arc.

In the second half, his production quieted down while Adams and Joseph had the ball in their hands more as the game wound down.

“Idris is the consummate glue guy,” said Connors. “But how many glue guys are 6-foot-5 athletic studs? You see he’s starting to stretch it out a little bit. He’s knocking down three’s and handling the ball a little more. He’s the heart and soul and he sets the tone.”

Midway through the first half, he had 14 of Cushing’s 23 points. He also came down with five rebounds in the game, showing he’s not just a scorer.

“He has a will to win, he’s willing to do a lot of the things no one else is willing to do,” said Joseph. “He’s down there fighting with Malik Abu on the block and then he comes out on the perimeter and can hit jump shots. He’s really versatile. He’s kind of our unsung hero.”

New England Roundup: Maine

March, 6, 2013
Like any old building, it has its flaws. It's cold and drafty sometimes, and way too hot other times. Everyone's relieved when the roof doesn't leak during games, or when a week of basketball tournament games goes on as scheduled without any old parts breaking down.

MaineBut the Bangor Auditorium, which hosted its last high school basketball tournament game on March 1, has history on its side.

The basketball part of the arena, of course, is old-fashioned. There are Maine high school tournaments at the Augusta Civic Center and the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. In Augusta, the concession stands are behind one of the baskets, creating a depth perception problem that knocks some teams right out of the tournament. In Portland, the seats are so far away that watching a game from the front row is like trying to watch your neighbor across the street.

At the Bangor Auditorium, everything is enclosed. There is little space behind the baskets or out of bounds, so the sound bounces off the walls loud enough that it can be impossible to hear the person talking next you.

“To this day, I wonder how anyone can play in that atmosphere,” Lawrence coach Mike McGee told the Bangor Daily News. “It’s amazing to look straight up and see the crowd. Your mouth is dry, all you want to do is drink water, and it makes you wonder how all those great athletes were able to perform in that setting.

“Since we’ve gone to the [Augusta] Civic Center coaching hasn’t been the same for me,” McGee added. “The fans are so on top of you in Bangor. You hear a giant roar when you score and now it’s just silence by comparison. They can hear me all over the Civic Center, and back when we played in Bangor we had to use play cards because the players could never hear me.”

Several newspapers and television stations have done tributes to the Auditorium over the past couple weeks. As the BDN wrote, “The Bangor Auditorium is filled with the echos of the basketball heroes it created, from Mike Thurston making a halfcourt shot as time expired to win the 1969 Class LL state championship for Caribou to Joe Campbell’s buzzer-beating basket that rallied Bangor past Deering of Portland for the 2001 Class A crown.”

Campbell's shot is one of the most famous in state history. He came from the other side of the basket to get a rebound and reverse layup just before the buzzer (Many still insist Bangor got a few extra seconds on the play because the clock operator was slow to re-start the clock.). Within a couple seconds, the floor was covered with Bangor fans. During this year's Eastern A boys tournament, Hampden freshman Nick Gilpin hit a 30-footer to beat Lawrence at the buzzer – a shot that made SportsCenter's list of Top 10 plays for the night. A group of adults formed a wall to make sure the Hampden fans didn't rush the court. No one thought to do anything like that in Bangor.

Maine has long had a problem keeping its high school graduates in the state or even in the area. That's especially true when you get north of the Portland area. Many big schools have seen their enrollment drop over the last 20 or 30 years. Presque Isle used to be in Class A and is now a normal-sized Class B school. Waterville has around 1,500 students in the late 1970s, and now has well under half that.

But even with the economy faltering and the small towns getting smaller, they still had the Bangor Auditorium.

"So many people, when they say 'That's the worst place to play,' they're not from northern Maine or eastern Maine,” Lindsey Welch, who played at Nokomis and now coaches at Winslow, told the Morning Sentinel. “They don't know. I would get so defensive about the place. It's like family."

The 10 semifinalists for the Mr. and Miss Basketball Awards were announced recently, with the winners to be announced on Friday, March 8.

On the boys' side, the semifinalists are Garet Beal of Jonesport-Beals, Spencer Carey of Lawrence, Anthony DiMauro of Boothbay, Charlie Fay of Falmouth, Quin Leary of Edward Little, Garrett Libby of Old Town, John Murray of Medomak Valley, Aaron Todd of York, Mitch Worcester of Washburn, and Evan Worster of Forest Hills.

Beal is one of the favorites, even though his Jonesport-Beals team was stunned by Easton in the Eastern D tournament.

On the girls' side, the semifinalists are Leavitt's Kristen Anderson, York's Emily Campbell, Dexter's Lauren Crane, Presque Isle's Chandler Guerrette, Lake Region's Sydney Hancock, Camden Hills' Jordan Knowlton, Cony's Josie Lee, Gorham's Kristin Ross, Waynflete's Martha Veroneau, and Orono's Jillian Woodward.

Only three of those players are taking part in state championship games this weekend. Guerrette and Hancock will face off as Presque Isle takes on Lake Region in a rematch of last year's Class B state final, won by Presque Isle in a squeaker. In the Class C final, Veroneau and Waynflete will play Calais for the Gold Ball.

The biggest omission on the girls' side was probably Richmond's Jamie Plummer, who led the Bobcats to the regional title for the third consecutive year.

The Eastern A girls' basketball final between No. 2 Bangor and No. 9 Cony was notable not just for Cony's run from the last seed, but also because both coaches – Bangor's Katie Herbine and Cony's Karen Magnusson – are pregnant.

Herbine – who is so animated on the sidelines she makes Jonathan Papelbon look subdued – is nearly six months along, while Magnusson is a little over four months into her pregnancy. Both were standout players at their current schools as high school athletes.

The game was anticlimactic. Bangor had a height advantage and outrebounded Cony, 54-29, in a 57-43 victory.