Dominating Astro: Marshall’s huge season led to 2K points, state crown

By Mike Whaley

Going into the 2023-24 NHIAA Division I boys basketball season, on paper anyway, the chances of Jackson Marshall reaching the 2,000-point mark and Pinkerton Academy winning the D-I championship seemed slim at best.

As the season progressed, however, it became apparent that the Astros were a team to be reckoned with led by Marshall, whose scoring numbers were off the charts. Those slim hopes were suddenly not so slim.

The rest, of course, was history. Pinkerton went 17-1 during the regular season to secure the top seed in the D-I playoffs. From there, they rolled through the tournament with wins over Nashua South, 101-83; Trinity, 82-71, and Nashua North, 90-76. The Astros set several D-I playoff records along the way for most points in a single tournament game (101), points in a championship game (90), and total points in the final game (166). One can also assume that PA set a three-game tournament scoring record with 273 points. Marshall, a 6-foot-9 senior, scored 111 points in three tournament games, missing the record by a single point. Another Pinkerton star, Zach Mathieu, set the mark in 2010 with 112 points – but in four games. That was also the last year the Astros won the title before Sunday.

In addition, Marshall reached 2,000 points, hitting the mark in the quarterfinal win over Nashua South with 41 points (he needed 38 coming in). He ended his career with 2,073 points, just the second D-I player to reach that milestone, joining Concord legend Matt Bonner. He was also the second N.H. player to reach 2,000 points this season as Profile’s Josh Robie eclipsed the mark last month while leading the Patriots to the D-IV title.

Courtesy: Jeff Criss, Perfect Photos

Marshall did it with a huge season in which he averaged a state-leading 37.7 points per game to go along with 13.7 rebounds per game. He scored 905 points in 24 games. Marshall plans to play baseball (pitcher/first base) at Southern New Hampshire University, an NCAA Division II school in Hooksett.

Pinkerton entered the season with a new coach (Mike Dunham) and just two players who had played in the previous year’s D-I championship loss to Bedford. Marshall had scored his 1,000th point as a junior, but he was still over 800 points away from 2,000, so the milestone wasn’t an immediate consideration.  

“Going into the year we kind of knew what he needed,” said coach Dunham, who played at Pinkerton for the late Tony Carnovale. “It wasn’t even on our radar until the seventh or eighth game that he was going to be pretty close to it.”

Dunham took over when veteran coach Dave Chase retired. He noted that Marshall only played 12 games as a freshman due to covid, adding there were also a number of games that he didn’t play in the second half because Pinkerton has been so good the past three years – so his numbers could have been even higher.

Marshall, for his part, wasn’t sure what the season would hold. “To be honest, the first day of tryouts I thought we were going to be a 50/50 team – win half the games. After looking at it, the opposite happened, which was great,” he said.

As for reaching the 2,000-point milestone, Marshall said, “I didn’t know that I would be able to do it. I had an idea. Getting there was definitely great. … My coach drew up a bunch of the plays for me, which helped me a lot. I feel like I had an advantage this year because there weren’t as many bigs as there were last year. That helped as well.”

Courtesy: Jeff Criss, Perfect Photos

Dunham also made some subtle changes that benefitted both the team and Marshall. “I challenged Jackson every day to get better, and he did that,” Dunham said. “We spaced the floor a little bit better this year than we did last year.” Because of the size of the team last year, getting space was tough. Marshall was able to get more space to work this year as well as starting outside and working his way in instead of going to the block every single time. “That helped his confidence and helped him score in different ways,” Dunham said. The biggest change was Marshall’s ability to get to the offensive glass where he was able to score more points with putbacks and from the foul line.

“This year the team knew that the way we were going to win was to go through Jackson,” said Dunham, who was a Pinkerton assistant last year after spending a decade at Londonderry HS working under Nate Stanton. “Last year I don’t know if that was the case. We really made an emphasis on getting him the ball in scoring position; just not on the block. He did a great job trailing plays and we were able to get him the ball in different spaces, and that really helped him.”

Dunham added: “He was a little more athletic than he was last year as far as putting the ball on the floor. His footwork for a big guy is unbelievable. His hands are amazing. He catches everything we throw to him. Kudos to him for putting that work in.”

One other more obvious change was Pinkerton’s uptempo style, which allowed Marshall to get more shots. “I like to play fast,” Dunham said. “If you look back to the Londonderry days with Nate Stanton, we wanted to play fast. We want to create more possessions in the ball game. If we do that, I’m confident we’re going to score more than the other team. It’s a fun way to play.”

He added: “A shot is better than a turnover. My dad always told me, the first option is to shoot it. In my mind, if you shoot it, it’s an opportunity for an offensive rebound, especially when you have Jackson. It’s an opportunity, not a turnover. Just playing loose and they really did that.”

Marshall felt his outside shooting helped to open him up as well and prevent teams from always doubling him in the paint. “They had to guard me at the 3-point line, which made it easier for me to attack the hoop. That’s why I was able to score as much as I was.”

Courtesy: Cindy Lavigne, Lavigne’s Live Shots

Plus the Astros had two other legitimate scoring threats in classmates Drew Brander and Charlie Ludden. Brander returned to Pinkerton after a year at Bradford Christian Academy in Haverhill, Mass. Both averaged in double figures, but really upped the ante in the playoffs averaging nearly double their regular-season numbers.  In addition, junior point guard Parker Bienvenue-Cernuda did a great job running the team.

Dunham said the chemistry was excellent and obviously adding Brander to the mix put them over the top. “Offensively, we were a tough guard this year because there was so much focus on Jackson,” the coach said. “The other guys stepped up and they all bought in. They understood and knew their roles. That was such a big piece.”

At the center of it all was Marshall. “Jackson was everything for us. He rebounded, he made shots, he blocked shots,” Dunham said. “Jackson hates to lose more than he likes to win. He hates to lose. He’s such a competitor. Every time that ball went up during a game, I was going to get his best effort. I had to keep him from losing his cool. I think he’s the most fouled player in New Hampshire. He takes a beating and he understands that. For 98 percent of the year, he kept his cool.”

Because the Astros had beaten Bedford during the season, that allowed them to earn the top seed and the first-round bye in the D-I playoffs. “It was just nice to have that week off. Getting that bye was one of our goals. One of our goals was checked off,” Dunham said. 

Heading into the quarterfinal game at home vs. Nashua South, the 2,000-point mark was now squarely in focus as Marshall was 38 points away. Dunham told Marshall:  ‘Jackson, you’re definitely going to do it in three games, you might do it in two. You might not do it in one. Let’s go win three games.’ That’s how I went by it. Let’s just make sure we win first. He bought into that.”

Courtesy: Betsy Hansen

Marshall, of course, did it that night with 41 points, hitting a fourth-quarter 3-pointer to move past the 2K plateau. “I’d like to hit 2,000 at my homecourt, my playoff game at home,” he said. “I did that. … I was making a lot of shots. I had three dunks. I played some pretty good offense that game. … My coach said you’re going to hit 2,000 either in this game or three games. So I was all right. I’m going to hit it at some point.”

Marshall had also joined an exclusive club – just him and Bonner as D-I’s only 2K scorers. “He’s very good, I hear,” Marshall said. “It’s great. I couldn’t ask for anything better than that. He has it all. He was in the NBA. That’s the best you can do.”

Dunham likened what Jackson did this year in terms of dominance to what Bonner did at Concord HS in the late 1990s. “I’m not comparing Jackson to Matt Bonner, no way,” he said. “I think Matt would run all over him. Matt was unbelievable. But we haven’t seen anything like this since Matt as far as dominating a league. I’m not saying there weren’t better players than Jackson in the past like (Trinty’s Chris) Lutz. I thought Chris Lutz was a better basketball player. I thought there were some players that were better than Jackson, but I just haven’t seen someone as dominant in the league.” Lutz later played college ball at Purdue and Marshall.

With the milestone out of the way, Pinkerton moved on to the semis against No. 5 Trinity. Marshall had another big game with 39 points, aided by 22 from Brander and 15 from Ludden in an 82-71 win. Now it was off to Lundholm Gymnasium at the University of New Hampshire for the championship against No. 3 Nashua North

“When you get to UNH, it’s not a coin flip, but anything can happen at UNH. Anybody can beat anybody,” Dunham said.

Indeed, North got the better of PA in the first half to lead 43-38. “At halftime they all had their heads down,” Dunham recalled. “‘Guys, that’s five points, we can score that in two seconds. We’ve been doing it all year.’ We came out in the second half and put up 90 points.”

This is how Marshall recalled the first half. “They hit a buzzer-beater and went up five points. They had all the energy,” he said. “I went down to the locker room, I saw some (Nashua) fans celebrating. We still have a whole other half. We’re celebrating a little early here.”

Courtesy: Betsy Hansen

Marshall added: “We were down by five, that’s not bad. We played much better defense in the second half; found me inside. Drew did very well in the championship game. We also stayed out of foul trouble.”

Marshall scored 10 of his game-high 31 points in the third quarter where PA outscored North, 29-18, to take the lead for good, 67-61. They eventually won by 14. Big games from Brander (26) and Ludden (18) made the win possible in support of Marshall.

Now Marshall sets his sights on his final high school baseball season and then college baseball at SNHU in the fall. He considered basketball, receiving some offers including one from Assumption University in Worcester, Mass., where his dad played in the mid 1990s as a 6-foot-10 center. SNHU also gave him the option to play both sports.

“I’m just going to do baseball,” said Marshall, who pitches and plays first base. “I feel I possibly have more of a future in baseball. If I were to play basketball, I’d be done at college. There’s no way I’m going to the NBA.”

But Dunham continues to entertain the idea of Marshall playing basketball. “I still think his jump shot is better than his baseball swing. I tell him that everyday. But he says he doesn’t know about that. I do believe that.

“I think he could play at UNH tomorrow. He’s that kind of kid. He’s 6-9. He can stretch the floor,” the coach added. “If he put some effort into it and lost weight and worked out a little bit too. I’m not saying he doesn’t do that, but he has the potential to be a very good basketball player. But he just works on the baseball, which makes it even more amazing what he’s doing. I’m so glad I got to coach him because he’s such a great kid. He’s so much fun to be around.”

Well, not so much fun if you’re an opponent, but we get the sentiment.