Andover Central is a team armed with an array of three-point snipers with no size, and it knows how to play to its strengths.
It has the power, in games like Friday night against No. 4-ranked Eisenhower when Central connected on 13 three-pointers, to make an entire gymnasium hold its breath every time a three-point shot goes up.
But Eisenhower has Matt Pile, who scored 25 points and surpassed 1,000 career points at Eisenhower, and on Friday the 6-foot-8 senior trumped the barrage of three-pointers to lift the Tigers to a 74-69 victory.
“We know coming in that we are going to have trouble in the paint, so we’ve got to shoot a lot of three’s if we’re going to win,” Andover Central coach Jesse Herrmann said. “So for us to do that and make 13 threes and not win tells you how good of a team Eisenhower is.”
Pile entered Friday’s game nine points shy of 1,000 in his career. He reached that midway through the second quarter on a pair of free throws, which set off chants of “Matt Pile” from the Eisenhower student section.
Moments later, with the crowd still chanting his name, Eisenhower started a run-out that ended with Pile violently slamming the basketball through the rim and showing some emotion following the dunk.
“That was a pretty cool feeling,” Pile said. “That’s what you think only happens in the movies. It was an awesome experience. It kind of gave me the chills.”
Eisenhower coach Steve Blue said Pile’s work ethic should receive the credit for his consistency over the past four years. Pile became the second player in Eisenhower’s brief history to surpass 1,000 points in a career, joining Trevon Evans.
“He works so hard on his game and he’s always in the gym. I can’t open the gym enough for him,” Blue said. “But the thing with Matt is that, yes, 1,000 points is awesome, but what he does in the classroom and the kind of teammate he is far outweighs what he does on the basketball court.”
On Friday night, most of what Pile did on the court was dominate.
Andover Central often feels helpless because of its lack of a single post player. But up against Pile, the Jaguars had even more difficulties than usual. Pile scored 10 points in the second quarter to push Eisenhower’s halftime lead to 39-26.
“Every game we look at the rebounding totals and it seems like we get beat by 10 every time,” Herrmann said. “We’re losing out on so many possessions, but it’s not like we’re not trying. We’re pushing, we’re fighting, we’re grabbing for everything.”
Despite this disadvantage, Andover Central found the equalizer in its three-point shooting.
The barrage began in the third quarter when Braden Belt and Jerome Washington each connected on three three-pointers. Some were well-contested, others were wide open, regardless it didn’t seem to matter to either shooter. Their hot shooting helped erase the 13-point deficit at halftime and tie the game at 50 heading into the fourth quarter.
Xavier Bell led the Jaguars with a team-high 24 points.
“I was hoping that we could eventually stop them or the law of averages would catch up to them or something,” Blue said. “But you have to give them credit. They shot it unbelievable.”
Central would even take a 59-58 lead when Belt connected on his fourth three-pointer with 5:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Eisenhower would answer back with a run of its own fueled by Pile and capped by four straight free throws by Dylan Vincent (18 points) to build a 65-61 lead.
With 39 seconds remaining, Central had an opportunity — down 70-67 — to potentially tie the game, but Pile came up with the winning play, a defensive strip that gave Eisenhower possession back. Vincent would drill two more free throws to secure the victory.
“A win is a win, I guess,” Pile said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll still take it. We need to work on getting out better on the three-point line and we’re also not containing our man very well.”
For Andover Central, which was playing on back-to-back nights following a 57-52 loss to East, it was the fourth straight loss by exactly five points. The Jaguars are now 3-6 on the season.
“We’ve played well and I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win, but I’m proud of how we played,” Herrmann said. “This was a tough one.”
A. CENTRAL: X. Bell 24, B. Belt 18, Je. Washington 12, C. Taylor 3, Ja. Washington 3, N. Crawford 3, I. Anthemides 2, T. McCray 2, P. Henry 2.
EISENHOWER: M. Pile 25, D. Vincent 18, T. King 12, J. Wake 11, J. Vincent 7, B. Bush 1.