BEVERLY, Mass. -- Nick Paulos came off a back screen, dribbled once and let it fly from a few steps inside the three-point line, at the top of the key. Then he pumped his fist, and let out a shout.
And then a few seconds later, after St. Thomas More's Adam Jones missed a potential game-tying three at the buzzer, Paulos exhaled. Amidst all the hype behind Brewster Academy's loaded starting five, and STM's prized 2012 center Andre Drummond, it's Paulos and his hot-handed New Hampton teammates that are punching their tickets to the NEPSAC Class AAA finals against an unheralded Maine Central Institute squad. New Hampton downed STM, 59-56, in the nightcap of tonight's Class AAA finals at Endicott College's Post Center.
The Huskies (21-11) will face MCI for the championship Sunday at 5 p.m., at the Post Center. The two teams split their regular-season series.
"I'm glad I could make it, and help us go to the the championship, you know," smiled Paulos, a UNC Greensboro-bound post-graduate who finished with 16 points (including four 3-pointers) and seven rebounds. "I'm pretty excited."
Paulos' winning shot came off an inbounds pass with 22.5 ticks left in regulation, the his team holding a 57-56 lead over the Chancellors (27-7), and just seven seconds left on the shot clock. St. Thomas More had two more chances at the other end, the first one an errant Damion Lee three-point attempt out of a timeout called with 13.9 seconds to go. Fairfield-bound senior Adam Jones pounced on the loose board, calling another timeout with 4.3 seconds to set up another try.
Out of that, Jones got a great look at the top of the key, pumped once and fired up a flat shot that clanked off the rim as time expired.
In this uncharacteristically low-scoring affair, the Huskies didn't allow a field goal in the last 2:11 to seal this.
"We just talked about guarding their stuff, which we've seen," head coach Peter Hutchins said of those final minutes. "We've played them twice now, [STM head coach] Jere [Quinn] does a great job...the last couple possessions, we were switching alot. When you have the lead like that, you're just trying not to give it away."
Meanwhile, the Huskies had to account for STM's 6-foot-10, 275-pound, Amare-like figure in the middle, No. 1 Class of 2012 recruit Drummond. The junior dominated the glass in the first half, with 12 of his game-high 15 rebounds, but struggled from the field by going 3 for 12. In the second half, he didn't register a point.
Credit Hutchins' game plan, which called for double-teams, sometimes triple-teams, in the post; and for the Huskies to deny a second touch for Drummond in a possession, forcing the hand of shooters like Lee, Jones, Roy Mabrey and Indiana Faithfull. Suffice it to say the Chancellors struggled from the perimeter, negating a relatively mistake-free evening.
"When you look at us statistically, we have two turnovers the first 30 minutes of the game," Quinn said. "And our third came within the last two minutes. Our team has always played everyone difficult and tough. Of our seven losses, five have been by three points or less. So on a day like today when we're not making shots, the kids competed. And that's all you can ask for."
Jordan Laguerre led the way with 19 points and seven rebounds for New Hampton, while Lee (16 points) and Jones (11) reached double-figures for the Chancellors.