NEW HAMPTON, N.H. -- "Let's go son!" Mitch McGary yelled to his frontcourt-mate on the bench, beating his chest and extending his free hand for a high-five at the sideline.
The big man, Markus Kennedy, was happy to greet him with a slap as their teammate Elijah Carter went to the line for two free throws that would further cement Brewster Academy's forthcoming win over their hotly-contested rivals on the other side of Lake Winnipesaukee. They were just as happy to get out of this cramped, over-capacity gym with a win over New Hampton as much as the next kid in maroon and blue.
McGary had plenty more reason to be jubilant, though. The 6-foot-10 junior from Chesterton, Ind., provided pivotal spark off the bench -- especially when the 6-foot-9, Villanova-bound Kennedy got into foul trouble -- to total 16 points, and helped the Bobcats stay ahead of the Huskies and then hold off a furious comeback, to win going away 86-77.
"Mitch gave us great energy, great energy," said Brewster head coach Jason Smith, whose team improved to 13-0 and now 1-0 in the Evergreen League. "He's a consensus Top 50 player in the Class of 2012, he's got tremendous motor for somebody who's 6-10, plays physical, very athletic. He's gonna have his pick of schools. He's gonna be able to go wherever he would like."
Said senior point guard Naadir Tharpe of McGary, "He played great. You know, the first half Markus had a couple fouls and he wasn't playing so well, but Mitch came off the bench and helped us out alot."
Not to mention, the momentum coming away from the Smith gymnasium -- filled with nearly 1,000 fans in a gym that at first glance probably seats alot less -- goes without saying, too.
"The atmosphere was crazy," Kennedy said. "I love playing away. I've got to give New Hampton fans their props. They really brought their A-game."
Kennedy, facing up New Hampton's Zach Auguste (14 points, five rebounds), racked up his second foul with 9:54 left in the first of two 20-minute halves, and surprisingly without the girthy big man and with the wealth of long-range shooters for the Huskies (9-4), the game slowed down.
Smith admitted he "should have speeded it up a little bit, made them play faster", and for good reason -- the Bobcats, as shown in the possessions following Kennedy's benching, can put on a show in transition.
First, McGary came up with a steal on the perimeter and lobbed an outlet pass down court to Pitt-bound Durand Johnson, who was fouled hard and made one of two at the line. Then, Carter came up with a steal the next possession down and threw it deep to Tharpe, who flipped it behind his shoulders to McGary. The forward charged through the lane and laid a thunderous two-hand slam.
The game's YouTube-worthy gem, though, came at the 7:50 mark, when Carter fed St. John's-bound forward Jakarr Sampson with an alley-oop from halfcourt, making it 30-20.
"I just looked at my man Eli, I see his eyes, and I gave him the finger up," Sampson said of the play, grin growing wide. "He just tossed it, so I just went up and got it."
New Hampton battled back to trail 43-37 headed into the break, only to watch as Brewster scored the first eight points of the second half, and held the Huskies to just three field goals the first eight minutes. The Bobcats took their largest lead of the game, 63-46, off of a McGary block of Olivier Hanlon, with Tharpe pushing downcourt all the way to the blocks before kicking out to Max Hooper for a three-pointer from the left baseline.
In a recruiting climate where point guards are sometimes judged primarily on their scoring ability, Tharpe signed with Kansas for next fall after head coach Bill Self fell in love with his fluid method of distribution -- especially when it comes to pick-and-roll's. So while he once again didn't blow up the stat sheet (10 points, five assists), he controlled the tempo in the second half to big gains.
"Naadir is just a winner," Smith said. "The most important thing to him is for the team to get the win. He doesn't care if he scores two points, he knows that his job as a point guard is to distribute the ball, keep people happy, don't turn it over, keep his man in front of him. So, I think that's why he's going to a place like Kansas, because his basketball IQ is tremendous."
The Huskies mounted a comeback late behind hot shooting from UMass-bound Jordan Laguerre (20 points) and Joey Ptasinski (4 of 7 three-pointers), and point guard Carter Trent cut it to 77-72 with 1:48 to go with an NBA-range three from the left wing. But after a few turnover-filled possessions, Sampson (13 points) forced the Huskies into a fouling strategy after taking a reverse pivot from the baseline and sinking a floater, for a 79-72 advantage with 59 seconds left.
"I think we tried to spread the floor, and we have guys that can really shoot it," said New Hampton head coach Peter Hutchins, whose Huskies were 13 of 31 on three's (just three days after hitting 16 in a win over Vanier Prep). "Ideally, we're trying to get the ball in certain guys' hands, and hopefully we can get some open shots and make them."
JUST ANOTHER NIGHT
Teammates of the 6-foot-8 Sampson, currently No. 33 in ESPN's Class of 2011 rankings, say they're accustomed to these kinds of nights from him. Sampson's other big dunk came with eight minutes left in the game, when he got nearly his whole right arm above the rim and tomahawked home an errant shot in the lane from Tharpe, to make it 71-59.
"I mean, we go crazy for it, but we see it every game," Kennedy said. "He gives us something special every game, every day in practice he does something. We just go crazy for it, get our fans hyped too, but we expect that out of him."
According to Tharpe, getting dunks -- and dunked on -- is often routine at Brewster practices. Best dunk? Tharpe jokingly volunteered one of his own, a dunk on McGary, before explaining the one that 16-year-old sophomore Deonte Burton laid on Kennedy in a practice.
Burton, a 6-foot-5 Milwaukee native who played on the sub-varsity tonight but is considered one of the team's strongest players, put a move on Kennedy "pretty bad", Tharpe said. Allow him to explain: "He was coming from the left side, and he made a move on the dude, cocked (his left arm) back, and Markus shot back to jump at him, but it was already too late. Left hand. It was nasty, it was real bad."