Alex Charles saved the best for last.
Charles sparked a couple of big runs to help the Blackbirds crawl back into the game after falling behind by as many as 19 points, but ultimately the Keene boys basketball team fell to Alvirne, 51-42, in the preliminary round of the NHIAA Division 1 boys basketball tournament at Purbeck Gymnasium at Keene High Thursday.
“I’m proud of how we finished the game and competed until the end,” said Keene head coach Kevin Ritter. “We overcame a really large deficit to make that a very tight game at the end there. Unfortunately, it was just too little too late.”
In what would end up being his final game as a Blackbird, Charles scored a career-high 22 points.
Alvirne used its defensive pressure to go on a 13-1 run in the final 4:35 of the third quarter, putting the Broncos up by 18 points heading into the final frame.
But Keene flipped the script in the fourth, its full-court press getting the better of Alvirne.
Just when it started to feel like the Broncos were running away with it, the Blackbirds exploded for an 11-0 run, and all of a sudden it was a five-point game.
“It started on the defensive side of the ball,” Ritter said of that final run. “We were able to get some deflections, we were able to get some points off turnovers and rattle them a little bit. We just weren’t able to convert on enough decent looks tonight to score enough points to get over the hump there.”
Charles was a key part of that run. He had 11 points in the fourth quarter alone.
“Shows our resilience, coming back into the game,” Charles said.
But there was only 1:43 left after Keene found itself back in the game, not enough time to complete the comeback.
It was a tale of two halves for Keene. The Blackbirds made only two field goals in the entire first half and found themselves down 20-10 at the break.
“I think we were scared at first, our whole team was timid,” Charles said. “We saw [they have some big kids]. But we came out in the second half and said, ‘Let’s just go and keep on playing.’ ”
And the guys did, exceeding their first half production in the third quarter alone, then scoring 21 in the final frame.
Charles himself had 20 of his 22 points in the second half.
“I was like, ‘This is my last game maybe, you never know. Just go out and finish strong,’ ” Charles said of his mentality at halftime. “So that’s what I did.”
“The kid’s just got the heart of a champion,” Ritter said of the senior captain. “He just plays incredibly hard all game long. I can’t say enough good things about the kid. I’m really, really proud of him and the career he’s had for us here.”
Alvirne brought some size to the table, with 6-foot-6 senior Liam O’Neil and 6-foot-8 junior Brendan Graham scoring 15 and 13 points, respectively.
Ritter said his team, with a smaller lineup, did a “respectable” job of handling the size mismatches.
But dealing with size in the post inevitably opens up shooting lanes, which Alvirne took advantage of.
Alvirne senior Jacob Hibbard finished with a team-high 16 points.
Thursday marked the last game for Keene’s seniors: Christian Oxendine (eight points), Isaiah Dunchus (two points) and Charles.
Ritter said the senior class did its part in leading the team throughout what will — hopefully — go down as one of the strangest seasons in recent memory.
“There were never complaints, they played hard, they really led the program by example,” Ritter said of his three graduating seniors. “Some of the culture that’s been established here has been a total credit to them.”
Those seniors take up three spots in the starting lineup, but there’s plenty of youth on the roster to continue the program’s upward trajectory moving forward.
“Tough way to go, [but] I’m proud of the team,” Charles said. “We’re young; they’re going to be good in a couple of years.”
And Ritter’s plan for the future is simple:
“Same as everyone — get better.”