DURHAM — The Portsmouth High School boys basketball team may have walked into Wednesday night’s Division I semifinal against Salem as the defending two-time Division I champion, but the reality was that it was the first time for the majority of the roster to play in the pressure-packed atmosphere that Lundholm Gymnasium brings.

Senior Alex Tavares and junior Calvin Hewett were the only Clippers who carried game experience playing on the court, but the other Clippers held their own early. Second-seeded Salem’s suffocating defense eventually spelled the end of the championship reign of sixth-seeded Portsmouth at the University of New Hampshire, 40-26.

“It was a great experience, it was just nice to see the team make it this far and we worked super hard this season,” Portsmouth junior center Zach Paradis said. “We’re obviously sad about the result of the game, but it was a good run to get here.”

Paradis grabbed a team-high eight rebounds on the night, while classmate Jacob Boutin was second on the team in scoring (eight points) behind Hewett’s 11 points.

Salem (19-2) threatened to pull away early when Zack Caraballo’s 3-pointer gave the Blue Devils a 16-8 lead early in the second quarter, but Boutin responded with a 3-pointer and Paradis nailed a baseline jumper off a pass from sophomore Coleman Brewster to bring the Clippers within 16-13 with 4:45 left in the first half.

“It was a lot of, I really enjoyed playing this final game with my team, and I really think we deserved to be here,” Boutin said. “I thought we came out strong, and I felt pretty confident.”

Portsmouth (15-6) trailed 30-16 with 5:48 left in the third before ripped off a 10-0 run to get within 30-26 that was capped off by a pair of free throws by Boutin with 2:02 left in the quarter, but the Clippers wouldn’t score again.

“I wanted revenge really badly (from Salem’s 58-43 regular season win), and the whole team really came out strong,” Paradis said. “It didn’t really follow into the second quarter, but we got a comeback going, and it kind of slipped away at the end.”

The game also marked John Mulvey’s first game as head coach patrolling the sideline at UNH, after assisting his father, Jim, in recent years. Mulvey also led Portsmouth to the Class I title as a player on the same floor in 2009.

“This a good experience for the future, but we’re disappointed we couldn’t get it done for Alex this year, but we had a decent run” Mulvey said. “I told the younger group that I’m proud of them and to keep their heads up. There wasn’t a lot of people who thought we’d make the Final Four this year. We can up short of what we wanted to do, but we fought to the end.”

“Calvin is kind of like an older player at this point, I thought he was solid, and I thought Zach played pretty well,” Mulvey added. “Jacob Boutin played really, really well. He’s been important for us all year and has hit some big jump shots.”

After scoring 15 and 14 points respectively in Portsmouth previous playoffs wins (69-65 over Manchester Central and 40-39 over Spaulding), Brewster was held scoreless on Wednesday.

Brewster has provided instant offense all season and should continue the trend upward next season. Junior Tommy Degnan was also held scoreless, but will also return as a deep threat next season.

“We’ll be back next year,” Paradis said.

Sitting at 4-4 midway through the season, there was never a doubt amongst the Clippers that they would get back into contention. Now the next wave we’ll look to continue the program’s prominence.

“Anything is possible with our team. Any year, no matter what, we think we can make it,” Boutin said. “We’re only losing one guy, we’ll be in the gym all summer, so we’re all excited for next year.”