BRANDON — The Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ basketball team rode a third-quarter surge and key plays in overtime to its second win and second over Otter Valley, 61-55 in Brandon on Saturday.
The 2-5 Otters dominated the first half, especially a first quarter in which they forced nine Eagle turnovers, and led by 32-19 at the break.
But in the third period the 2-7 Eagles outscored OV, 25-9, and forced 11 turnovers. The Otters forced overtime on a late three-pointer from junior guard Josef Scarborough, but the Eagles controlled OV behind five points and a key assist from junior point guard Whit Lower.
Eagle senior Sawyer Kamman — who scored 12 of his game-high 21 in Saturday’s third quarter and tossed in a game-winning three at the buzzer when the Eagles nipped OV, 53-50, on Dec. 30 — said the Eagles knew they had to shake off their sloppy start and early 13-2 deficit.
“After the first two minutes of the first quarter we got a little bit more into our game,” Kamman said. “We got a pretty big deficit to start out with, but the second half we came out strong and we did what we had to do.”
Kamman said the Eagles gathered after a 60-35 loss at Mill River on Jan. 7 and told themselves they had to refocus.
“We knew what we had to do coming forward,” he said. “So the last few days in practice we’ve been working on a little bit of everything and it really showed here tonight.”
Coach Mike Estey called both the Eagles’ practice work ethic and Saturday’s result steps forward.
“They (OV) came out with a lot of energy, and we just kept fighting,” Estey said. “It was a big win for us, an effort win.”
OV Coach Greg Hughes would like to see his young team — there are no seniors on the roster — sustain that energy for 32 minutes. The night before, OV lost a nine-point halftime lead to visiting Middlebury, and the Otters did not play well in Wednesday’s first half in a 60-47 loss to Poultney.
“We have to put a whole game together. I think it was just lack of focus coming out after putting together a good half,” Hughes said. “We have to keep the same intensity, same focus, as we do in our good halves.”
Certainly, the Otters started strong. The 2-3 zone in which OV opened the game frustrated the Eagles, and four OV starters — juniors John Winslow (13 points, 18 rebounds), Connor Gallipo (11 points) and Derek Bassette and sophomore Collin Eugair — scored in the 13-2 surge.
Gallipo finished the quarter with two threes and seven points, and Bassett had five. For the Eagles, senior center Mark Jipner (eight points, 11 rebounds total) scored four points in the period, and Lower picked up two of his seven assists.
Play evened in the second, but OV added to its lead as Scarborough (nine points) tossed in two threes and four other Otters scored. For Mount Abe, Kamman scored five, and Lower hit a jumper and chipped in two more assists to help the Eagles stay within 32-19 at the break.
Things went wrong quickly for OV in the third period. Of their 11 turnovers in the quarter, seven came in the first three minutes. And Mount Abe took advantage with a 16-0 run to take a 35-32 lead.
Senior forward Travis Bachand (seven points) scored three quick points off turnovers to start the surge; Lower (12 points, five steals) hit two jumpers, adding a free throw after one; junior guard Joey Payea (nine points) converted a layup on the break; and Kamman hit a three and went coast-to-coast with a rebound, with that latter hoop capping the run at the four-minute mark.
Winslow (13 points, 18 rebounds) drove to break the streak at 3:15, but back-to-back Kamman moves to the hoop made the lead five, 39-34, at 1:25. OV countered: Freshman Kai Norwood (nine points) scored five quick points, tying the game with a three, and Winslow hit in the lane at 0:25 to give the Otters the lead, 41-39.
It didn’t last: Lower fed junior forward Ty Combs for a basket, and after a late OV turnover Kamman tossed in a trey from the wing to make it 44-41, Eagles, after three.
Action slowed in the fourth, as the Otters better defended the Eagles in the man-to-man defense that Hughes called for in most of the second half, and the Eagles continued to defend well in their man-to-man. Each team committed a half-dozen turnovers in the quarter.
The Eagles managed only six points in the first six minutes, steal conversions by Kamman and Payea and a bucket by Jipner in the lane. But OV failed to take advantage, despite two hoops by Gallipo and one by sophomore forward Tyler Allen. The Eagles sent them to the line for seven free throws, and the Otters made just two, including one of two by Norwood at 1:54 that made it 50-49, Mount Abe.
Kamman hit two free throws at 56.5, after which Scarborough tossed in his three at 0:40 to make it 52-52. Neither team could convert in the final seconds, and it was on to OT.
Lower hit a free throw at 3:22 to make it 53-52, but at 2:56 Winslow sank two from the line to give OV the lead, 54-53. The Eagles pushed the ball up hard, and Lower fed Bachand for a 12-foot jumper at 2:50 to put Mount Abe on top for good. Fifteen seconds later, Payea fed Lower on the break to make it 57-54. Two Payea free throws at 0:53 made it 59-54.
Winslow hit one from the line, and OV got the ball back with 30 seconds to go. But Kamman rebounded the miss and fed Lower for the breakaway hoop at 0:17 that clinched the Eagle win.
Hughes did not want to use the fact the Otters had played the night before as an excuse, especially given what he sees as a trend.
“I think if it was just one game, I could say that. But we have to put a whole game together, that’s all,” Hughes said. “We’re young, a little immature. We just have to start focusing a little more for the entire game.”
The Eagles got help on the boards from junior forward Tyrus Keith (seven), Combs (five) and Kamman (six), who said they may have learned a valuable lesson.
“We’ve been down, but now we know we can come back,” Kamman said. “It was good to find that out.”
And Estey agreed.
“We didn’t come out of the gates on fire, but we stayed with it,” he said. “We battled and we stayed together, and we made some good decisions down the stretch that got us the win.”