MUHS boys’ basketball puts it all together in win over Milton
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School basketball team started and finished strong on Saturday, and that proved to be enough to earn a 67-47 victory over visiting Milton that lifted the Tigers to 7-6.
The Tigers went on a 28-4 run that spanned the first and second periods that stretched a one-point lead into a 38-13 bulge.
They still led by 25 until getting careless in the final 20 seconds of the half, when they allowed Milton’s Eric Menard to hit two treys to cut the lead to 19 at the break, 43-24.
A painful third quarter saw the lead dwindle to 47-40 at 1:08, before a jumper by junior point guard Bobby Ritter made it a nine-point lead entering the fourth.
Milton cut the lead to seven with two free throws to open the final period, and two more free throws by Milton freshman Ryan Brown made it 54-46 with 5:54 to go.
Then the Tigers took charge. Sophomore Oakley Gordon, who scored a team-high 15, hit a trey, stole the ball, and sank another three-pointer, with both hoops assisted by junior forward Connor Quinn (six rebounds).
Suddenly, it was 60-46 with 5:00 to go, and the Tigers coasted home behind two buckets inside from senior forward Sam Usilton (11 points, eight boards) and a hoop and an assist from Ritter (eight points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.)
Usilton, a tri-captain, said the Tigers had to get back to what was working.
“Our close-outs and box-outs kind of dwindled right toward halftime, and they hit a couple shots right off, and we came out a little flat after halftime,” Usilton said. “Eventually we got back into running the court as fast as we can, getting some looks as fast as we can. We just executed.”
On Wednesday, the Tigers had bounced back from a couple tough losses to Division I foes by beating visiting Missisquoi, 63-42. In that game, Ritter scored 14, and junior swingman Cullen Hathaway added 11.
“It’s excellent to come back and have a couple solid wins after a couple of pretty embarrassing losses,” Usilton said. “We’ve just to keep working like we are and hopefully keep this little streak going.”
If the Tigers play more like they did in Saturday’s first 14 minutes, they could get on a roll in the Lake Division schedule, which continues at Vergennes on Tuesday and at home vs. Mount Abraham on Friday.
Milton led, 7-4, after two minutes, but a jumper and a three by Hathaway and a Gordon free throw gave the Tigers the lead for good, 10-7.
After Milton’s Kyle Apgar drove for two of his team-high 15 to make it 10-9 at 3:35, the Tigers closed the period on a 10-0 run, with the bench playing a role: sophomore forward Sam Holmes scored twice in the surge and Gordon scored once, while starters Aaron Smith, a senior guard, and Hathaway chipped in a hoop apiece.
Coach Chris Altemose said the Tigers have recently committed to an uptempo approach on offense and higher pressure on defense, and the bench is a key element of that strategy.
“As soon as we see guys on the floor slow a little bit, were trying to get fresh legs in there. It’s definitely a team effort, a commitment. We’re easily playing 10 guys,” Altemose said. “The bench contributes to our success.”
Milton went six minutes without a basket, notching just two of six free throw attempts in the first 2:35 of the second period. By then, Usilton, Ritter, Quinn, junior forward Bryce Burrell and Gordon had combined for 12 points, completing a 22-0 run, and it was 32-11.
After Brown scored in the lane, four points from Hathaway, who finished with 14, and a jumper by freshman Trey Kaufman made it 38-13 at 3:30. The teams traded hoops until Menard’s back-to-back bombs made it 43-24 at the break.
Then the Tigers went cold, and in the middle of the third Milton hit three straight treys, the middle one a bank shot by Apgar, and it was 45-36.
Until Gordon’s outburst in the fourth period and then Tigers taking over in the stretch, the Yellowjackets hung around.
Altemose gave Milton (1-13) credit for scrapping, but said the issue was more his team not playing 32 minutes.
“We got off to a really good start today, playing uptempo, getting some quality shots, playing some pretty good pressure defense,” Altemose said. “They admitted they came out of the locker room a little too comfortable to start the second half.”
But he appreciated that his team was able to right the ship.
“It was an eight-point game and we pushed it right back to 20,” Altemose said. “That’s a sign of good things for us if we can be tested in that manner … and take control again.”
If the Tigers keep working, he believes they can iron out the wrinkles.
“We have a lot of confidence in what we are trying to do. We have a lot of confidence in our teammates. And we just have to play more consistently for 32 minutes,” Altemose said. “We’re excited moving forward about our chances in the Lake … but we’re not focused on anything except one day at a time and getting better.”
“Our mentality is not to worry about our opponents. We’re just confident in our own skills,” he said. “We’re just ready to play, to run our offense and play solid defense.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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