SWANZEY — Even in a practically empty gym, you could just feel the energy from the start.
The Monadnock boys basketball team took that energy and handed Conant its first loss of the season with a 57-51 victory on Friday night at Paul Joseph Breckell Gymnasium.
Just two nights prior, on Wednesday, the Huskies lost to Conant, 47-36, in their first game back after a two-week layoff because of COVID protocols.
After being held to just four points in that game, Monadnock senior Jake Kidney finished with a game-high 15 points Friday and brought an energy to the court that just seemed to rally the whole team.
“A bunch of us, we were all mad — embarrassed — after the last game,” Kidney said. “The bus ride home we didn’t talk. We knew what we had to work on and got the job done tonight.”
“When [Kidney] came back from the break, he had some things on his mind,” said Monadnock head coach Jim Hill. “But we sorted that out, he sorted it out, and I think he played like the player, his senior year, he wants to be. Sky’s the limit for Jake.”
Junior Kevin Putnam scored 14 points, and also shined on the defensive end, holding Conant’s leading scorer, senior Colson Seppala to five points.
Seppala scored a game-high 24 points Wednesday.
“[Putnam] wasn’t going to let [Seppala] just dominate tonight,” Hill said. “He knows how to really grind a player down. He’s the guy you really don’t want to see covering you.”
Seniors Nate Doyle and Tyler Hebert finished with eight and seven points respectively.
The Huskies (2-1) came out hot early and were hitting almost everything, with the bench jumping up and cheering after each bucket. Monadnock got out to a 16-10 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter was much of the same story; Monadnock scored the first five points of the second frame to extend its lead. Kidney was all over the floor, even rebounding his own missed shots to keep the momentum on his side.
Monadnock used that momentum to extend their lead to 12 at the half, 34-22.
Even down big at the break, Conant (5-1) wasn’t ready to go home quite yet. Thanks in part to a five-point quarter from Manny Hodgson, who finished with 12 points, the Orioles were suddenly within three with less than two minutes to go in the quarter.
“It just sums up what I knew all along,” said Conant head coach Eric Saucier. “It’s that they weren’t playing as hard as they could [in the first half], and that’s the one thing we pride ourselves on at Conant is just playing hard all the time.
“They came back out in the second half, and I applaud them for that,” Saucier added.
After a Monadnock timeout, Putnam hit a big three-pointer to give the Huskies a bit of breathing room.
On the next possession, it was Putnam again with a three-point play, much to the delight of the Monadnock bench.
Putnam’s six points in the final two minutes of the third quarter put the Huskies up 46-38 with one more quarter to go.
Conant made another push in the fourth, climbing back to make it a five-point game with just over a minute to go.
Monadnock’s Carson Shanks, who finished with five points, hit an important jumper after a long offensive possession and the Husky bench exploded.
Kidney hit two free throws with 40 seconds to go to seal things off for good.
“I was just thinking, ‘I gotta hit these, I gotta hit these.’ So I made sure I hit that one,” Kidney said of his game-sealing free throws.
It was a tale of two halves for Conant, as the Orioles outscored Monadnock 29-23 in the final two quarters after falling behind early.
“You can’t win a basketball game when you only play one half,” Saucier said. “The only thing I ask of my guys every year is to compete. If you compete you always have a chance, and we didn’t compete in the first half.
“That’s what I told the guys: ‘If you would’ve played the first half as hard as you played the second half, who knows what the outcome would’ve been?’,” Saucier added.
Monadnock next hosts Wilton-Lyndeborough on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
Conant visits Keene Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Blackbirds’ season-opener.