DURHAM — These numbers just didn't add up.
There were more than 1,000 reasons why the Portsmouth High School boys basketball team felt it could compete with No. 2 Salem in the Division I semifinals on Wednesday, namely from the career body of work of leading scorer Alex Tavares.
And, while the sixth-seeded Clippers competed, seeing Tavares get held to three points in a 40-26 loss was a big reason why they’re making peace with the end of their season instead of playing in a championship game for the sixth year in a row.
"He hasn't scored single-digits in years," said Portsmouth coach John Mulvey. "That hurts when you're relying on him scoring the ball."
There will be no three-peat champion in Division I, the two-time defending champ Clippers all done at 15-6. Salem (19-2) will play the winner of the late semifinal between No. 1 Exeter and No. 4 Londonderry in the final here on Saturday (3 p.m.).
Calvin Hewett scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Clippers, who shot just 8-of-36 from the field (22.2 percent). They committed nine of their 13 turnovers in the first half, which had them chasing a deficit the rest of the way.
"Give credit to them," said Hewett. "They're very good defensively. They held our best player to not as many points as we would have liked. They were aggressive, they stole passes. And they were able to make a lot more shots than we did."
The plan for Salem was the same as it was during a 58-43 win over the Clippers in January: Take away Tavares, a 23.7 point-per-game scorer, by having top defenders Michael Ference and Jared Burns deny him the ball.
"That was our plan," said Salem coach Rob McLaughlin. "You want to take him away first and force someone else to beat you, even if they have guys who can do it."
Forward Kyle Poulin (13 points) and guard Zack Caraballo (10 points) led the Blue Devils, who held the Clippers scoreless for the entire fourth quarter.
"Defensively, it's similar to how we want to play," said Mulvey, "in-your-face defense, run some good sets on offense and get every loose ball. They did a great job on that today."
The Clippers' best basketball started when the scoreboard was at its worst in the third quarter.
His team down 30-16 after the Blue Devils raced out from halftime and scored seven straight points, Mulvey called timeout to regroup. From there sprang a 10-0 run, led by Hewett, that saw Tavares make a steal and cruise in for his first points with 5:15 to go.
“They’re a three-time defending champion for a reason,” said McLaughlin. “They’re not going anywhere.”
Two free throws by Jacob Boutin (eight points) capped the run and trimmed the lead to 30-26. But Ference slashed for a basket and Poulin closed the period with a jumper to inflate the margin back to eight.
"We were getting stops on defense for the first time all game," said Hewett. "It's about runs, this game. We just couldn't create enough on offense."
Not only was Tavares held scoreless in the fourth quarter. The whole team was. The 26 points marked a season-low.
"Same thing in the regular season," said Mulvey. "They'd face-guard him and keep him from touching the ball. We didn't do a good job getting him open or setting screens for him."
Tavares, the team's only senior and a first-team All-Division I selection, declined comment afterward. He attempted just eight shots, making one, a tough final act to a brilliant career.
On Wednesday, after missing their first four shots, the Clippers got a 3-pointer from Boutin to open the scoring 2½ minutes in. But scoring points would prove to be a problem.
A Hewett 3-pointer gave them their last lead, 8-7. They trailed 13-8 after one quarter and by as many as eight in the second. They finished the half shooting 5-of-16 and turning the ball over nine times, those two factors combining for the 23-16 deficit.
It finished as a frustrating night for both the Clippers and their star.
"It goes to all of us," said Hewett. "We talked all week on how they were going to be face-guarding Alex. We had to set better screens. I just don't think we came out with enough energy or played physical enough."
BLUE DEVILS 40, CLIPPERS 26
Hewett 3-4-11, Boutin 2-2-8, Tavares 1-1-3, Paradis 2-0-4. Totals: 8-7-26.
Caraballo 4-0-10, DeMinico 1-0-2, Laycock 2-0-4, Burns 1-0-2, Poulin 6-1-13, Spampinato 1-0-3, Ference 3-0-6. Totals:
Portsmouth 8 8 10 0--26
Salem 13 10 11 6--40
3-point goals—Portsmouth 3 (Boutin 2, Hewett); Salem 3 (Caraballo 2, Spampinato). Fouled out: none.