The Portland Bulldogs capped its perfect season with a relatively easy win over the previously unbeaten Hampden Broncos.
As they all season, Portland showed discipline and athleticism in executing their ferocious zone defense which led to easy baskets on offense. Not that they needed it particularly, as Portland half court sets were pretty effective on their own. Seniors Justin Zukowski and Jayvon Pitts-Young used speed and toughness to break down the Broncos defense while underclassmen Steve Alex and Amir Moss gave a preview of some great things that we might expect from them next year.
But really the night belonged to 6’6″ Matt Talbot.
As by far the biggest and tallest player on the Bulldogs, Talbot has been asked to hold down the pivot position for two years. While by and large successful (who can argue with a perfect senior season?), there has been a certain amount of grumbling–in the stands and among some of the cognoscenti–about his game. The rap on Talbot is that he’ll sometimes just stand around and appear half-hearted on offense; that his post game is not good, and that he’s not a good straight up post defender. The validity of these gripes are beside the point as Talbot’s game is suited for the perimeter: he shoots threes with a smooth stroke; he slashes to the basket, and he crashes the offensive boards for tip ins, put backs, and dunks. Defensively he can play up front using his long arms to prevent opponents from getting past the perimeter, and is a great help defender as he rotates over to deliver dramatic blocks on a regular basis. Most importantly, Talbot rarely finds himself in foul trouble.
What made Saturday night special was that finally and at long last, Talbot was allowed to bring his full offensive game to the floor. His long range shooting (combined with some very pretty baskets around the rim by Steve Alex) sparked a 17-0 first quarter run which effectively put the game out of reach. Jayvon and Danny Kane played big down low as well, but the Broncos were obviously terrified by what Talbot might do and were back on their heels the whole game. True his game slowed down in the 2nd half, and true he did end up being out scored by Zach Gilpin but it mattered little; what mattered lot in the second half were big plays at critical times: a dagger three pointer and a big swatting block on Gilpin.
Talbot proved his willingness to subjugate his game for the good of the team all season. If Talbot decides to play in college, he will probably play small forward, a more natural position for him.
The Portland season has been marked by unselfish team play where in any given game any one player could emerge as the high scorer (albeit often as the beneficiary of the defense). But in the biggest game of the season Talbot showed that he is the one irreplaceable piece.