Statement games can come at any time, any place — even the first game of the season. And although time will tell just how much the opener meant, Keene High couldn’t ask for a better start to its boys’ basketball season.
Fresh off a runner-up finish in the Noyes Volkswagen Holiday Basketball Tournament at Keene State College last week, the Blackbirds opened their Division I season Friday night with an eye-popping 73-50 rout of Londonderry High, a state semifinalist last season. True, the Lancers were missing a couple of starters, but this was a rollicking Blackbird party at the Purbeck Gymnasium. They led almost start to finish and blew it wide open in the second half, leading by 30 points at one point.
On offense, the ball zipped around the perimeter at a furious pace, often finishing with a pick-and-roll layup or a backdoor cut. And just to keep the Lancers honest, the inside-outside ball movement resulted in several uncontested 3-pointers. Defensively, the Birds were relentless, forcing Londonderry into 19 turnovers while committing only 10 themselves.
“We have a really unselfish group,” Keene Coach Kevin Ritter said. “They make the extra pass and defensively they play really hard, rotate very well.”
Not surprisingly, the scoresheet represented that unselfishness. Noah Timmer scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the first half, when Keene set the tone. Quinn Grover finished with 13 points and Johnston pumped in 12, stepping behind the 3-point line for several open looks. Jaheim Lancaster, Jonathan Kelly and Christian Oxendine all finished with 7 points.
“Very proud of our guys’ effort. Can’t say enough about how hard we played,” Ritter said.
Not everything was perfect — 8-for-22 from the free-throw line certainly stands out and Ritter said that will need to be addressed. But they shot better than 50 percent from the field, buoyed by the high-percentage shots they earned.
The Lancers went 16-5 last year, reaching the Division I semifinals before losing to state champion Exeter High. They beat Windham in their opener before the holiday break, then ran stride for stride with Keene in a fast-and-furious first quarter that ended with the Birds ahead 27-19. The lead swelled to double digits in the second quarter before Keene settled for a 40-30 halftime lead.
If the Lancers had thoughts of a second-half comeback, the Birds quickly erased them. They outscored Londonderry 10-0 in the first four minutes of the third quarter, and the game was never in doubt thereafter. With 22 seconds left in the third, Ritter called a 30-second time out to set up a last shot that encapsulated the whole night — crisp ball movement and a Grover layup for a 61-37 Keene lead. It swelled to 70-40 in the fourth, and both coaches cleared their benches with more than five minutes left in the game.
With the holidays over, Keene now falls into the rhythm of the regular season, though it means riding the bus for a while. The Birds have three straight road games starting Tuesday at Nashua South.