MIDDLEBURY — In Friday’s home opener, the Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team showed the traits the Tigers hope will make their season a success: relentless defense, depth, speed and experience.
In their 60-41 win over visiting South Burlington, the 2-0 Tigers did not allow a point in the first 9:56; forced 23 Rebel turnovers; got contributions from at least 10 players and at least four points from six; outrebounded the Rebels, 32-19; and took a lead that grew to 38-8 when seniors Tyler Provencher and Mitchell Clarke opened up the second half with three-pointers.
Clarke, a co-captain who recorded 12 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals, was happy to talk about the Tigers’ defense, not only the effective press, but how well they played in man-to-man and 3-2 zone looks.
“Our last game our half-court defense was not so hot, so we’ve been working hard at practice to get that down, because that’s what we want to get good at, not only pressure in the full-court, but half-court as well, and I thought we did that pretty nicely tonight,” he said.
Still, Clarke said the Tigers are not satisfied: They would like to improve their finishing in transition, rebounding and ballhanding (12 turnovers on Friday, some unforced).
“We did a lot of things correctly … and a lot of things not so nicely. I thought we rebounded much better than the last game, but I thought personally our rebounding and transition, taking care of the ball was not as nice,” he said.
Coach Chris Altemose was pleased with what he called a good team effort on Friday.
“We’re continuing to work hard. Guys were hustling around on the floor and trying to stay up-tempo,” he said. “We came out playing really well in the way we want to play, and finished a nice win.”
But Altemose agreed the Tigers are still improving, and will focus on rebounding and finishing inside, especially against bigger teams than the Rebels, and continuing to hone their man-to-man defense.
On the other hand, he is fully confident they have the desire and ability to get even better than they have shown in their two one-sided victories.
“To be able to say … we’ve got a lot to work on and we won by 20 tonight, it’s a good place to be,” Altemose said.
On Friday, the Rebels’ first points came on a free throw at 6:04 of the second period. By then, MUHS had 13 points, 10 of them from seniors Connor Collins and Marrott Weekes, almost all on drives to the hoop.
Defensively, Collins, Weekes and Clarke were all over the passing lanes and ballhandlers; Collins and Weekes finished with three steals apiece. Senior forward David Burt (four points and seven boards) took three charges, and the fifth starter, Provencher, challenged shots and denied passes into the post.
The first-half defensive intensity did not drop off when Altemose spotted in senior James Pecsok, junior Sam Usilton, sophomore Bobby Ritter and freshman Perry DeLorenzo (five points), although Rebel guard Connor Burke’s two second-quarter three-pointers momentarily made the score look a little more realistic at 21-7.
But the Tigers also began to find the range after their nine-point, four-turnover first quarter. Clarke hit a jumper, two free throws, and a trey; Collins (16 points, four rebounds) attacked the basket for six points; Weekes (six points, four rebounds) sank an early jumper; and Burt, Provencher and Usilton hit inside as the Tigers took a 32-8 lead at the break.
With Tiger starters sitting for the most of the third and fourth quarters, the Rebels crept back in the game. Rebel Joey Loiselle’s scored eight of his team-high 10 points in the third period, and it was 46-27, Tigers as the quarter ended with Ritter’s first varsity points — a 35-foot swish that beat the buzzer.
The Rebels began the fourth with 9-2 run in the opening two minutes, with five points from Zach Piper, and it was 48-36. But Altemose put four starters in with junior post player Zach Stagg, and that group ripped off an 11-2 run to seal the deal: Stagg scored three points, and Weekes, Collins, Provencher and Burt added a hoop apiece.
“I was pretty confident once we got back to that crew we’d be fine, and they got it right back to 20 and closed the door, and that was exciting to see,” Altemose said.
Clarke said the Tigers know there will be tougher games, starting on Tuesday, when Rutland visits, but that they believe in themselves.
“We knew coming into the season we had eight seniors. Our expectations are getting deep into the playoffs. Maybe not other people’s, but that’s what we feel,” he said. “Our confidence was here at the end of last season, and it’s here now.”
Altemose said a good reason for the Tigers to be confident is because they work hard.
“I’m proud of our guys’ effort,” he said. “I say it over and over, they’re just so fun to watch and coach because they play so hard.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.