NASHUA – The Campbell High School boys basketball team knew that if it was going to advance to the championship game of the Chick-fil-A Holiday Tournament, it was going to have to play harder then all of its opponents.
The Cougars did that at times on Tuesday, and nearly knocked off Thornton Academy, the two-time defending champion from Saco, Maine.
Campbell led by nine early in the second half, but struggled to handle the pressure put on by the Golden Trojans, and Thornton rallied to take a 55-52 win over the Cougars at Nashua South.
Jeff Gelinas had 15 points and Justin Pollard added 14 markers to lead Thornton, which will face South at 7:30 p.m. in the winner’s bracket.
Caleb McKearin led Campbell with 10 points, while Max Gouveia, Mike Vigeant and Jesiah Wade each had eight points.
“I was very pleased with the effort,” Campbell coach Pat Roye said. “Thornton has won this thing two years in a row. I was very happy with the fact that we came out and competed. We played hard. I go 11 deep and I’m not afraid to play any of them and I thought that was crucial to us getting back in the game.”
Early on, the Cougars felt like they had the element of surprise on their side.
“I think in the first half, we shocked them a little bit, but in the second half, they came back poised,” Campbell senior John Houston said.
The Cougars led 27-20 at halftime and were up nine with less than a minute into the third quarter, but Thornton closed out the frame by going on a 20-8 run to take a 40-37 lead going into the fourth.
The Trojans were able to swing momentum thanks to some adjustments.
“We took care of the basketball a little bitter,” Thornton coach Bob Davies said. “We also pressed in the second half and we got a couple of steals and we capitalized that way. That got us back even and we keep going from there.”
The Trojans increased their lead to as many as 11, going up 49-38 with 4:35 to play, and Roye began to make substitutions, but the Cougars didn’t give up.
“We got a big boost off the bench at the end,” Campbell’s Kyle Mun said. “They didn’t give up, they got us back in it.”
Campbell went on a 9-2 run to make it a four-point game with 1:20 to play, and was still down four, 53-49, with 26 seconds to play. Thronton struggled from the free throw line down the stretch, missing four, but made enough to hold on. Gouveia’s 3 at the buzzer provided the final margin.
“If we hadn’t had that stretch where we turned the ball over (in the second half), we might have been in better shape,” Roye said. “They came after us with a zone press and it was really front loaded. We got past the front line, but that’s when we made the mistakes, when we had three-on-twos, two-on-ones. We have to convert those. If we had, we would have gotten them out of the pressure.”
Campbell will play in the loser’s bracket Wednesday at 4:3o p.m. against Hollis Brookline.