WORCESTER, Mass. -- Rashad McCants pumped in 38 points and Mike Konovelchick provided some clutch shooting from beyond the arc as New Hampton bested Worcester Academy, 85-74, on Sunday afternoon at the NEPSAC Class A final.
McCants (pictured right with ball) scored in just about every way you can imagine -- dunks, three pointers, pull up jumpers, free throws -- and he kept the Huskies afloat until Konovelchick delivered the knockout blow in the final minutes.
"I was really focused on our team concept today, getting my shots in the flow of the offense and not trying to force anything," McCants said. "You can't be afraid of anybody in this league or in college -- you have to go in with a mindset that nobody can stop you."
With just under seven minutes to play and New Hampton clinging to a suddenly precarious 61-59 lead, McCants scored on a short jumper in the lane with defenders draped all over him, getting fouled in the process. He hit the free throw to boost the lead back up to five at 64-59 with 6:30 to play.
The Hilltoppers responded quickly, getting back to back baskets from Craig Smith to slice the lead to 64-63 with 5:17 remaining.
Konovelchick then showed why he has become one of the top winter recruiting targets in the NEPSAC by drilling a tough pull up jumper with 4:48 left that pushed the lead to 66-63. While Worcester hung around for the next few minutes, they would get no closer than two points the rest of the way.
After an eletric follow slam by Jarrett Jack pulled the Hilltoppers to within 68-66, McCants and Konovelchick put the game out of reach for Worcester by initiating a 13-3 Husky run.
McCants started the spurt by knocking down a pair of free throws with 3:41 left that increased the lead to four. On New Hampton's next possession, he muscled around the B.C. bound Smith for a difficult basket in the low post for a 72-66 advantage with 2:59 to play.
"McCants was the difference in the game," said a sullen Worcester Head Coach, Mo Cassara. "A couple of times, we had guys draped on him, and the fadeaway bank shot he hit with the shot clock winding down -- if he is going to hit those shots, we're going to have a tough time winning."
Brendan Winters' three pointer for Worcester temporarily reduced the Husky lead to three, but Konovelchick responded with a pair of daggers -- two three pointers to be exact -- the latter of which gave New Hampton a 78-69 lead with 1:17 to play.
"Every player I think wants the ball at the end of the game," Konovelchick said. "It really felt like the little bit that we needed to get us over the hump and finish off the game."
McCants hit two more free throws and Wes Miller hit one of two from the stripe to cap the run as the Huskies blew the game wide open in the final minute.
While Konovelchick's three pointers were timely, it was McCants' dominance of the game that ensured his MVP status.
Early on, it appeared as though New Hampton would grab the Class A crown in a cakewalk.
The Huskies opened up a 37-19 first half lead as the Hilltoppers struggled to hit shots and get their ace big man Craig Smith involved in the flow of the offense.
Worcester trimmed three points off the deficit just before the half, and went into the break down 40-25.
Despite having a large throng of supporters on hand, the Hilltoppers were unable to kick things into high gear until midway through the second half.
In fact, New Hampton increased its lead to 19 points at 53-34 on a three pointer by Wes Miller with 14:31 to play.
With the Huskies leading 61-47, Worcester made its move and nearly brought the house down to boot, using a 12-0 run to get back into contention.
The unsung Winters, who signed in the fall with Davidson, kick started the run with a three point basket with 8:40 left in the second half.
Signs that the tide was turning came on New Hampton's next possession, as Miller's three point attempt rimmed in and out to fan the Hilltopper fast break. Forward Sam Kaplan finished and was fouled, and after a free throw, Worcester trailed 61-53 with 8:09 to play.
Adam Tancredi fed Mike Clarke on the other end, but the burly 6-5 forward from New York slipped, leading to a turnover and easy lay in for the Hilltoppers' Steve Hailey that pared the deficit to six.
Miller was called for a double dribble on the Huskies' next possession, and Kaplan finished a drive on the opposite end with a finger roll to slice the New Hampton lead to 61-57. Jack then stole a lazy pass near midcourt, and his power slam drew Worcester to 61-59 and ignited the locals into a frenzy.
That's when New Hampton regained its composure and rode the backs of McCants and Konovelchick (17 points) to ride out the storm.
"This has happened to us so many times this season, where we've had big leads at half-time," said New Hampton Head Coach Jamie Arsenault. "Worcester made a huge run and had the crowd on their side, but once we broke their press, we got the ball inside to Rashad, he did the rest."
"He's a winner," Arsenault continued. "He's won games time in and time out. That was no fluke, and he's going to have a huge career at North Carolina."
Winters led the Hilltoppers with 19 points, while Smith and Jack added 14 apiece in defeat. Kaplan also notched double figures with 12 points for Worcester.
In just three years at the helm at Worcester, Cassara has led the Hilltoppers into two Class A finals. And with Hailey and Kaplan returning next fall, he has some talent to build around in a league where massive turnover is the only true constant.
In late January, New Hampton defeated Worcester at Worcester, and that was the Hilltoppers' last loss until Sunday, which ironically enough was another game played in the city of Worcester (at Clark University).
"I don't think that there is anybody who has better alumni and better fans that Worcester Academy," Cassara said. "We have a great following, and [Providence Head Coach] Timmy Welsh, who is Worcester Class of 80, came in after a tough loss to Notre Dame last night."
"It was tough, because we wanted to play well for our fans the people in front of us, but we didn't tonight," he concluded.