VERGENNES — Tuesday’s boys’ basketball game between Mount Abraham and the host Vergennes Union High School team looked fairly even on paper beforehand — the Eagles were 2-7 and coming off a strong effort, a stirring overtime win at Otter Valley, while the 3-7 Commodores on the previous Friday had slumped in an 18-point loss at Fair Haven.
Instead, the evening may have answered the question of what happens when one team puts its best foot forward, and the other does not: The Commodores opened the game on a 14-3 run on the way to a 66-32 victory.
VUHS junior point guard Liam Hayes, who recorded team highs of 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, said the Commodores were determined to start the second half of their 20-game season on the right foot.
Tuesday’s effort will give them a lift, Hayes said.
“It gives us more confidence,” he said. “We struggled in Fair Haven, but tonight definitely gave us more confidence, and we’re ready to take on our next nine games.”
Coach Peter Quinn said Tuesday marked the first time the Commodores had played well both offensively and defensively for the entire 32 minutes.
“We haven’t played a completely consistent game yet until tonight, so that was the best thing for us to see,” Quinn said.
Mount Abe Coach Mike Estey had hoped his team would build on the OV win and better practice intensity. Instead, he ended up crediting the Commodores and thinking the Eagles’ progress was not always a smooth upward curve.
“They came out and wanted it more, played harder from the get-go,” Estey said. “I thought we were making steps forward, and tonight was a step backward.”
VUHS bolted to a 17-5 lead after one period as five Commodores scored — nine VUHS players finished with between four and 10 points. The Commodores assisted more than half of their baskets as they moved the ball well.
In the first quarter, Hayes scored six, senior guard Brendon Huestis tossed in five of his nine points, and senior forward Josh Benning added three of his nine.
A three by senior Sawyer Kamman, who scored a game-high 11, and a nice move in the lane by junior point guard Whit Lower accounted for the Eagle points.
Mount Abe also committed six of its 17 turnovers in the period, and several came as the Commodores picked off passes on the back-door cuts that worked so well at OV. And, as Estey noted, the ball wouldn’t fall when the Eagles were open, and they never recovered from the slow start.
“We couldn’t hit any shots early, and then we’re not patient,” Estey said. “And we couldn’t D it up, and Vergennes just was a much better team tonight than we were.”
In the second period, the Commodores pushed the lead to 29-11 despite six points from Kamman. Six Commodores scored in the period, including six points from junior forward Dylan Raymond, two on pretty reverse layups, and four Commodores picked up assists — Benning, Hayes, Raymond and sophomore guard Aaron Gaines.
Then the Commodores played their best quarter in the third, getting nine hoops, all within six feet of the basket and several on the break, with seven assists, six from Hayes. Their lead grew to 52-20.
VUHS post players Benning, juniors Wesley Miedema and Zach Gebo, and senior Jamie DeVries combined for 12 points in the period. VUHS also held Mount Abe without a basket for the first 5:40. The Eagles countered with three free throws from different players in the first 5:40, and one late basket from Lower and two from junior Ty Combs.
Hayes noted the running game and the contributions of the forwards, who helped VUHS earn a 41-23 rebounding edge.
“We caught them getting slow getting back on defense and exploited that,” Hayes said. “Our big men, inside in the post, that’s where we got a lot of our points, a lot of our boards, and I think that was the heart of this win.”
Commodore sophomore Josh Dam and Combs scored four points each for their teams to provide fourth-quarter highlights.
Combs and Lower finished with eight and six points, respectively, for the Eagles, who will look to get back on track with another Lake rival, Missisquoi, due in Bristol on Friday.
“We’ll get back at it as soon as we can and get ready for Missisquoi on Friday night,” Estey said.
Benning added five rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists for VUHS, which got six points from DeVries, seven points from Dam, five points and good passing from senior forward Jarret LaFleche, four points and as many blocks from Miedema, and four points and a solid floor game from Gaines.
Quinn said he was happy with all aspects of the game heading into Milton on Friday.
“I am encouraged. I certainly feel better than after watching the tape of the Fair Haven game,” Quinn said. “We actually had a game plan. We stuck to it, (and) we executed it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.