MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA — They say defense wins championships — and the undefeated Manchester Essex boys basketball team has certainly adapted that mentality this season.
Utilizing a committed matchup zone, the Hornets have consistently stymied opposing teams with aggressive and timely rotations, intelligent anticipation and active hands off the ball, and fundamentally sound techniques to generate stops without fouling.
On Monday night on their home floor, those stingy Hornets welcomed fellow Cape Ann League power Newburyport. The well balanced Clippers threw everything they had at them, but Manchester was once again up for the challenge, overcoming an early deficit to pull out a wildly impressive 54-42 victory.
With the win, Manchester improved to 15-0 and handed Newburyport (13-3) its first league loss of the season.
“It was all defense tonight,” said Hornets’ senior captain Cade Furse, who dropped a game-high 24 points while also swiping a whopping seven steals to go with six boards. “Shots weren’t falling for much of the game so we knew we just had to lock in defensively to beat this kind of team. This was the team to beat outside of us in the CAL; we took care of business and it’s on to the next one. We still want more.”
Led by the all-around play of athletic and physical guard Sam Craig (2 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks, 1 steal), as well as the inside presence of 6-foot-5 big men Finn Brennan (7 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block) and Carson Gretz (9 points, 4 rebounds), visiting Newburyport came out strong out of the gate. The Clippers built a quick 14-7 lead by getting into the paint and finishing strong.
At that point, Manchester coach Tim St. Laurent called for an early timeout and it seemed like everything changed from there. The Hornets finished the opening frame on a 6-2 run to climb within three (16-13) after eight minutes.
On most nights Hornets’ center Eddie Chareas — a 6-foot-6, 220-pound force — has his way down low. But with Brennan and Gretz in the fold for this particular clash, Chareas had to work extra hard on both ends of the floor.
Fortunately for the hosts, Gretz found himself in foul trouble early, which is a credit to Chareas and other’s ability to get him off balance. That alone played a huge role in Manchester’s ability to eventually seize a slight 26-24 advantage heading into halftime.
Jake Zschau banked in a 3-ball to give the Hornets their first lead at 23-22 before Milo Zeltzer followed suit with a coast-to-coast and-1 to close out the half.
“It’s the same thing all the time: first quarter we see what their scheme is, see what their sets are against our zone and make adjustments like good teams do,” said Manchester coach Tim St. Laurent. “Then we tighten up the screws for the final three quarters and that’s what we continue to do all year long.
“But the big reason, too, was getting (Gretz) in foul trouble and getting him out of the game,” he continued. “He’s a long defender and he’s the key because he’s slipping in and out of the middle, in and out of the corner. So getting him in foul trouble helped us out a lot and got our confidence going into halftime.”
Still anyone’s game at the break, Manchester continued to trend in the right direction defensively. For all intents and purposes, they put on a defensive clinic in the third quarter, holding the Clippers to just six points in the stanza.
On the other end, Furse got going a bit after a slow start shooting the ball (credit to Craig there, who blocked his shot three times and was all over him early). Johnny Chareas, a sophomore sharpshooter, came up big as well, knocking down a big three and following up his own miss on another attempt to get a layup inside in the midst of a 7-0 Hornets’ run.
At the end of three it was 35-30 Manchester, and they never relinquished the lead from there.
“Credit to Manchester Essex, they beat us,” said Clippers’ coach Mark Elmendorf. “We just had to value the ball better in the second half; we had 17 turnovers alone in the second half. I thought we came out and played a really good first half, obviously, we just didn’t execute in the second half. Cade Furse is really good, Eddie (Chareas) is really good, and they beat us.”
While only a five-point game heading for home, it felt like more considering the way the Hornets were locking in defensively. And then, Furse took it upon himself to officially put the final nail in the coffin.
The shifty senior canned back-to-back triples off the dribble, including one of the side-step variety, while adding another pull-up jumper near the free throw line for good measure. An ensuing heat check attempt from Furse was off the mark, but Chareas was there to clean it up and draw the foul, as Manchester built a 47-39 lead with just over four minutes to play.
Furse added some slithery drives to the hoop, including a sweet reverse lay-up in traffic with under two minutes to go, and the Clippers were never able to recover down the stretch.
It was another spectacular showing from Furse after Craig had his number early, and really showed his unwavering confidence from one play to the next.
“I just have confidence in my shot and in my game. I know I can get to the basket and I knew the shots would fall,” said Furse. “I was just missing (early), it wasn’t anything they were doing special. (Craig) is a good defender, but I had confidence in myself to hit those shots down the stretch.”
“Shooter’s shoot,” added St. Laurent. “It was tough to realize how good of a defender (Craig) was on the other team and I think that caught Cade off guard a little bit at first because he just isn’t used to someone actually staying with him. But he settled down and shooter’s shoot and Cade shot tonight.”
Both Milo Zeltzer and Zach Hurd — whom St. Laurent occasionally threw on the floor at the same time for the first time this year — played terrific defense throughout, as did fiery guard Preston Potter. Eddie Chareas finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocks, while Zschau knocked down two 3-pointers as well to help the cause.
For Newburyport, Zayd Leanna was the leading scorer with 10 points. Brennan was held scoreless in the second half and as good as Craig was defensively, Manchester gave him no breathing room on offense as he managed just one bucket.
“We knew going into this we had three monster games in a row starting with Newburyport. Then we have a great team in Georgetown coming in (on Thursday), a very well coached team, very well schemed, and then Burke on Monday,” said St. Laurent. “So one game at a time, we’ll enjoy this one and then go back to the film and get ready for Thursday.
“But to hold a very good team like that to that number is not something I could’ve ever dreamed of, so just a great night for us.”
Manchester Essex 54, Newburyport 42
at Manchester Essex High School
Manchester Essex (15-0);13;13;9;19;54
Newburyport — Sam Craig 1-0-2, Calum Atherton 2-0-4, Peter Osazuwa 1-0-2, Zayd Leanna 3-2-10, Connor Spinney 3-0-8, Finn Brennan 2-3-7, Carson Gretz 3-2-9. Totals: 15-7-42.
Manchester Essex — Milo Zeltzer 2-1-5, Cade Furse 9-3-24, Zach Hurd 0-1-1, John Chareas 2-0-5, Jake Zschau 2-0-6, Eddie Chareas 6-1-13. Totals: 21-6-54.
Halftime: 26-24, Manchester Essex
3-Pointers: M — Furse 3, Zschau 2, J. Chareas; N — Leanna 2, Spinney 2, Gretz.