Boys’ basketball: Pembroke, already in playoff mode, runs full steam ahead past Coe-Brown

Pembroke’s Mason Gagne (24), Evan Berkeley (1) and Zach Al-Shawafi (23) surround Coe-Brown’s Ryan Kouchoukos during Monday night’s game.

Pembroke’s Mason Gagne (24), Evan Berkeley (1) and Zach Al-Shawafi (23) surround Coe-Brown’s Ryan Kouchoukos during Monday night’s game. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Coe-Brown’s Jack Matson contends with Pembroke sophomore Zach Bemis (11) leaping in front of him during Monday’s 65-47 win for Pembroke.

Coe-Brown’s Jack Matson contends with Pembroke sophomore Zach Bemis (11) leaping in front of him during Monday’s 65-47 win for Pembroke. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Joe Fitzgerald floats up a contested shot for the Spartans during their 65-47 win over Coe-Brown on Monday.

Joe Fitzgerald floats up a contested shot for the Spartans during their 65-47 win over Coe-Brown on Monday. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Evan Berkeley drives to the basket for a layup during Monday’s 65-47 win for the Spartans over Coe-Brown.

Evan Berkeley drives to the basket for a layup during Monday’s 65-47 win for the Spartans over Coe-Brown. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-20-2024 12:27 AM

PEMBROKE – When the Pembroke Spartans come out shooting like they did on Monday night, they’re almost impossible to stop. Even against Coe-Brown, one of the better defensive teams in Division II, the Spartans would not be denied in their 65-47 victory.

Senior guard Joe Fitzgerald led the way on offense for Pembroke with 24 points on his senior night. Juniors Devin Riel and Evan Berkeley added 14 and 13 apiece. The Bears’ Quinn Salter led his team with 15.

For a game between two teams battling for a top-four seed in the D-II playoffs, there was surprisingly little drama. Pembroke burst out of the gate to a 23-12 lead after the first quarter and a 35-19 lead at halftime.

“They came out full throttle tonight. They really came out with a purpose tonight,” Pembroke head coach Mike Donnell said. “They wanted to make a statement, and I think right from the start, they did. They played with confidence. They knew that if we had lost this game, Coe-Brown takes the (three) seed away from us. Their mentality right now is keep winning until we get to UNH. They played a very good game tonight.”

The Bears generally like to grind down their opponents for wins, but Pembroke’s speed and athleticism simply proved too tough to slow down. With Coe-Brown often relying on defensive turnovers to convert into easy points, the Spartans’ ability to take care of the ball prevented easy buckets in transition. 

Facing Pembroke’s set defense, the Bears just couldn’t generate much.

“They jammed our middle up pretty good,” said Bears head coach Dave Smith. “It was very physical in the paint. That’s the kind of game it was. Still, we did get quite a bit in the paint, but not enough obviously. And not enough early. We didn’t get anything going early, which is (important), especially when you’re playing away.”

The win for Pembroke guarantees it’ll be a three seed at worst when the playoffs begin next week. At 15-2, the Spartans are a game behind Pelham and Hanover, both 16-1. Meanwhile, the Bears drop to 13-4 with the loss. They’re still in fourth place and could lock up home court for the first two rounds with a win at Milford on Thursday.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Mother of two convicted of negligent homicide in fatal Loudon crash released on parole
Students’ first glimpse of new Allenstown school draws awe
‘We’re just kids’: As lawmakers debate transgender athlete ban, some youth fear a future on the sidelines
Pay-by-bag works for most communities, but not Hopkinton
What’s in a name? Ask an Epsom Yeaton.
Regal Theater in Concord is closing Thursday

Coe-Brown’s performance was suboptimal for sure — no team wants to lose by 18 in a late-regular season game against a fellow top-tier opponent. But Smith didn’t see many flashing red lights that warranted concern from Monday’s game. Pembroke simply played better.

“Let me just say that I was not disappointed at all with the kids’ effort,” Smith said. “The effort was there all night. Just could not get good momentum. (Pembroke) shot really well. To their credit, they’re a very good team. There’s a reason why they’ve only lost two games. I don’t think we played as well as we’re capable of, and we’ll be better. Effort-wise, we’re there. Just couldn’t get it done tonight.”

For Pembroke, Monday was the latest example of how tough it will be to slow down the Spartans’ offense come playoff time. Fitzgerald turned in his latest standout effort in a season full of brilliant performances. But the Spartans’ strength isn’t just Fitzgerald. It’s Fitzgerald and the entire cast around him, including Berkeley, Riel, Mason Gagne and Zach Bemis who all had notable contributions against Coe-Brown.

“It was a good team win,” Donnell said. “We kept their scoring a little bit down, even though we had a little bit of a lapse in the fourth quarter. But we played a lot of players. Overall just extremely impressed with the group of young men we have. They’re in the right frame of mind right now. They know what’s at stake, and I think they’re giving it their best shot, and that’s all as a coach you can ask for.”