Boys’ basketball: Hopkinton digs down, clinches spot in D-III semifinals with win over Campbell

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-18-2023 10:09 PM

CONTOOCOOK – When No. 4 Hopkinton headed to the locker room trailing 32-26 at halftime against No. 5 Campbell in Friday’s D-III boys’ basketball quarterfinal, the message from head coach Matt Miller was simple: Be more aggressive.

For the Hawks, that message was received and executed. They outscored the Cougars, 37-27, to pull out a 63-59 victory and punch their ticket to the semifinals on Wednesday against No. 1 Gilford (20-0).

In the first half on offense, the Hawks (14-4) didn’t take advantage of mismatches in the pick-and-roll and attack space in the lane. On defense, it seemed like every time they scored, they’d allow the Cougars (13-5) to run down and match them.

But early in the second half, when Hopkinton junior Will Tanuvasa drove hard to basket for a basket and free throw, it set the tone for the Hawks’ reinvigorated effort. Ultimately, Hopkinton started the half on a 9-0 run that forced Cougars coach Justin DiBenedetto to use two timeouts.

“I thought we executed for the most part pretty well in the first half,” Miller said. “It was just shots weren’t falling or we weren’t being aggressive enough to see that our shot was there in the lane, and we needed to take advantage of some of those mismatches on the pick-and-roll.”

Defensively, Miller’s team keyed in as well. Hopkinton held Campbell’s Colton Martel to just two points in that third quarter.

“Just talking more and being tougher,” he said of the second-half defensive adjustments. “We were doing a lot of the right things, but we were a half-step late. … I think I put in eight guys, and all eight guys bought into making that extra step to make it happen.”

But it was the Hawks’ Tanuvasa who stole the show in the second half, finishing difficult shots around the rim, knocking down midrange jumpers and swishing step-back 3s. He finished the evening with a game-high 21 points, plus four assists.

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“I thought he was remarkable,” Miller said. “I think what I asked him to do goes against his nature. He wants to be a little bit more one-on-one sometimes and really control the show, and when he plays like he did tonight, he can do all of that while still being a part of the bigger unit and getting great looks.”

More specifically, Miller explained that when Tanuvasa exclusively looks for those one-on-one opportunities, it takes the rest of the offense out of its rhythm. On Friday night, Tanuvasa took advantage of those matchups when they arose, but he didn’t force shots that weren’t there.

Junior center Abram Standefer also turned in a notable effort with 13 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Gavin Davies (10 points, seven rebounds, three assists), Noah Aframe (10 points, four assists) and Marek Joppa (nine points, four rebounds) also played well.

Now Standefer, Tanuvasa and the Hawks turn their focus to Gilford, a team that beat them soundly, 79-42 on Jan. 17. If Hopkinton stands any chance of pulling off the upset, the formula in Miller’s mind is clear.

“It’s rebound the ball and take away transition,” he said. “Combined between second-chance points and transition points, they had 45 on us (last time). That’s never going to be perfect, but if we give up 15 instead of 45, now we’re only down by seven, and with the guys I have, we’ve erased that many times.”

It will be a tall task for sure to take down the defending D-III champions, but Hopkinton earned this chance for a rematch thanks to its bullish second-half performance on Friday.

“That was a fun game,” Miller said. “We’re looking forward to moving onto the semifinals.”

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