HAMPTON — First-year Portsmouth High School boys basketball coach John Mulvey spoke about the size and presence of Winnacunnet’s interior defense as a contributor to his team scoring just eight points in the first half of Tuesday’s season opener.
However, it wasn’t just the size of seniors Ben Allen (6-foot-5) and Jack Schaake (6-6), and junior Nick Hepburn (6-5) that gave the two-time defending Division I state champions fits.
The Warriors also got strong, disruptive defensive efforts from a pair of sub-6-footers in junior guards Jordan Fuller (5-10) and Conor Considine (5-9).
Fuller was constantly in the face of Portsmouth junior Calvin Hewett, limiting one of Portsmouth’s top scorers to just four points.
“(Fuller) is an exceptional athlete. Very intense and very competitive,” Winnacunnet head coach Jay McKenna said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s been incredibly open to learning and how to become that sort of defender. We have been exceptionally pleased with his progress so far, particularly on that side of the ball. He is really going to help us in what we’re trying to do this year.”
Considine also did nothing but show his worth in his first varsity game.
“He’s not the imposing figure that (Fuller) is, but from a basketball IQ and defensive IQ, his is very high," McKenna said. "He knows where he needs to be at all times. He’s very good at walling guys off and taking things away. He’s picked up what we’re trying to do very quickly.”
Winnacunnet will visit Merrimack on Friday for a 7 p.m. scheduled tip. The Tomahawks lost to Alvirne, 71-45, in their season opener on Tuesday,
“Merrimack always plays very hard and they are incredibly physical,” McKenna said. “They will try to slow it down and try to turn it into a game in the 30s, that’s what we are preparing for. You have to box out, you have to set screens, and you have to run your sets. They always have athletic, tough kids who are disciplined.”
Leading the way
Allen and Schaake, the two team captains, are developing a leadership that has carried over to many members of the team.
“The biggest thing about this team is we all like each other, we have chemistry and we’re all buying in,” Allen said. “I am really excited about that, because we really didn’t have that the past two years. There were games last year that not everybody showed up and we had some issues here and there; with this team, I can tell you, everyone wants it.”
Added McKenna: “We talk about leadership and how that is the responsibility of everyone; your job is to make yourself better and help your teammate be better. The attitude we have seen has been tremendous in that aspect. The work ethic is there every day in practice. We haven’t had to say one thing about effort, focus or intensity.”
Winnacunnet is one of eight teams at next week’s annual Oyster River Boys Basketball Holiday Tournament.
The three-day tournament starts Wednesday with the championship game set for Friday at 7 p.m.
Winnacunnet, winners of this tournament the past two seasons, opens against Somersworth on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
A win over the Hilltoppers will have the Warriors play the winner of the Epping-Oyster River game on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Other first-round games include Spaulding and Timberlane, and Sanborn and Dover.
Winnacunnet sophomore Brett Marelli hit a free throw, tying the game with 7 seconds left in regulation. The Warriors stole the ball near midcourt, Marelli got the ball in front of the Warrior bench and drilled a 3-pointer as time expired, giving Winnacunnet the come-from-behind win.
“He’s one of those sophomores we’re excited about,” McKenna said. “We have a really nice sophomore class. He’s going to be a huge part of what we do moving forward.”