MIDDLEBURY — After a slow start in Monday’s home game against Mount Abraham, the Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team wore down the shorthanded Eagles and pulled away for a 59-36 win that snapped the Tigers’ five-game losing streak.
The MUHS defense forced 25 turnovers, and the Tigers outrebounded the Eagles, 41-25, as they wore down a Mount Abe team that was missing leading scorer B.J. Haskins, a senior guard, and also was hampered by senior forward Tommy Nelson’s foul trouble.
After Nelson went to the bench with his third foul in the second quarter, Tiger junior forwards David Burt (18 points, 13 rebounds) and Tyler Provencher (15 points, five rebounds) took over. At one point, the two scored 22 MUHS points in a row, including 14 on layups and six on two Provencher treys.
But the defense might have been most critical. Especially without Haskins, the Eagles’ primary point guard, the 6-7 Tigers were able to harass the Eagles into miscues and hurried shots. With the score 12-12 with 4:30 to go in the first half, Mount Abe scored just two more hoops as MUHS took a 24-16 lead at the break.
“We were really hustling on defense. All the starters and the people coming off the bench contributed,” said Tiger junior co-captain Connor Collins, who led MUHS with four steals and added 10 points.
Eagle coach Bill Leggett said Haskins had a minor medical issue and should be right back in the lineup, but was missed on Monday.
“He’s one of our best ballhandlers, clearly, and a scorer, so that’s tough,” Leggett said. “And they were putting pressure on us out on the point, and we didn’t handle that terrific.”
Neither team got much going in the first period. The Eagles (1-12) opened in their usual 3-2 zone, and when the Tigers tried to penetrate Nelson, senior swingmen Ian Shaw and Evan Tillson, and junior guard Ryan Barnes all blocked shots. But the Tigers trapping man-to-man defense was even more effective, and the quarter ended with MUHS up, 7-5.
Barnes, who tied senior forward Jon Lathrop for the Eagle team high with 10 points and added five boards and five assists, hit a fast-break hoop and a trey early in the second quarter. Those points, along with a drive by junior Cody Alexander, offset a Burt three-point play and two Collins free throws and created the 12-12 tie.
Then the Tigers began to take charge, in part because they attacked the zone by passing into the middle instead of driving. Burt scored seven and Provencher added five — including a three-pointer that made it 21-16 after Barnes had just gone coast-to-coast — as MUHS went up by eight at the half.
Mount Abe came out with more offensive spark in the third quarter, as Lathrop and Tillson sank treys and Tillson hit a pair of free throws early on.
But Provencher and Burt scored another five points apiece in the first 2:56, and the lead hit 10, 34-24 for the first time. But later in the quarter, a Barnes triple sliced the lead to seven, 36-29.
Then the Tigers went on a 6-0 run in the final 2:20. Collins scored on the break, and then junior forward Marrott Weekes hit in the post at 1:10. With time running down, the Tigers lost the ball at midcourt. Weekes sprinted to the high-bouncing ball, outjumped an Eagle at full speed, and dashed to the basket for the finish that made it 42-29 after three.
MUHS coach Chris Altemose noted the contributions of his substitutes — senior guard Ben Ferris, and junior forwards Weekes, James Pecsok and Peter Lindholm. They defended well, took care of the ball, and combined for eight points and seven rebounds.
“They all contributed coming in off the bench,” Altemose said.
The Eagles twice cut the advantage to 11 early in the fourth, one on a strong drive by Shaw and the other on an Alexander jumper set up by Nelson, but the Tigers outscored them, 15-2 over the final six minutes.
Leggett hopes his team’s work ethic will pay off with some positive results.
“They’re working hard and sticking together,” Leggett said. “We’ve just got to keep working at it and hopefully snag a couple along the way.”
For MUHS, junior guards Mitchell Clarke (six points, six assists) and James Hare (two points, 10 rebounds) helped key the team-wide effort that snapped the Tigers’ frustrating streak, in which several losses came against top teams.
“This one was nice. We played as a team,” Collins said. “We were all hustling. Everybody was contributing.”
Collins said the Tigers know their remaining schedule is tough, including Friday’s game at 13-1 Vergennes, but that Monday’s win will give them a lift and that they welcome the challenges.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the next couple games,” he said. “These guys are so competitive. We’ll bring it to them.”
Altemose agreed Monday’s result — which he said was the result of good offensive execution, defensive intensity, and 32 minutes of effort — should lift the Tigers’ morale. In their recent slump he said individual players have had good games, but not all have clicked at the same time — now he hopes that step will be next.
“We need all the pieces, and the pieces have been there,” Altemose said. “If we can get guys performing at a high level together, then we’ll be OK.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.