Otters top struggling Eagles, 65-39 in boys’ basketball

BRISTOL – Early-season trends continued when the Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ basketball team hosted Otter Valley on Saturday.
The 6-1 Otters, who returned most of their key players from last winter’s winning team, picked up their sixth straight victory, 65-39, leaving the rebuilding Eagles still searching for their first positive result.
OV senior John Winslow sparked OV with 31 points, and added 15 rebounds as the Otters dominated the boards, 57-32, including team rebounds. Many of the OV rebounds came on the offensive end, as the Otters racked up 25 second-chance points.
Despite the difference in the records, Winslow said the Otters did not take the Eagles lightly entering Saturday’s game. Mount Abe and OV split two hard-fought contests in each of the past two winters in what has become a rivalry, and each time the Eagles broke into the win column at the Otters’ expense.
 “That was a real point of emphasis,” Winslow said. “They got their first win against us in the last two years, and we didn’t want it to happen again.”
OV coach Greg Hughes would have liked fewer turnovers (10 in the first half, unofficially), but said the Otters’ work in the paint and on the boards has been consistent all winter.
 “It’s tough (for opponents) when you’re just rebounding over everybody,” Hughes said. “It’s definitely nice to see some strengths inside, and that’s where we want to push it.”
Also cleaning the glass for OV were forward Carson Leary (eight rebounds), forward Connor Gallipo (11 points, seven rebounds and a game-high four assists), forward William Ross (six boards) and guard Kai Norwood (seven points, five boards).
Mount Abe Coach Mike Estey said the Eagles spend extra time at practice working on rebounding in preparation for OV, but said board work has been a problem and that especially Winslow and Leary are difficult to keep off the glass.
“We worked all week on boxing out,” he said. “Everybody’s got to find somebody.”
The Eagles were without sophomores Jack Willis, who Estey said has just begun to contribute, and forward Ryan Thompson, who Estey said could have helped in the paint; both were away on family vacation.
But inexperience for a team that features only two players who saw significant minutes was the larger, as well as ongoing, issue, Estey said.
 “We’re having a hard time with the speed of the game, and we’re having a hard time understanding the game,” he said.
But, Estey said, the Eagles’ attitude and work ethic should start to pay off as the season progresses.
“We’re working extremely hard. They come in and work their tails off and do anything we ask,” Estey said. “It’s just decision-making.”
On Saturday, the Otters did not shoot well in the first quarter, but it didn’t matter as they took a 17-8 lead. Thirteen of those 17 points came after offensive rebounds, 12 from Winslow, who scored 14 overall in the period.
In the quarter, Eagle sophomore guard Coleman Russell scored four of his team-high 11, and senior guard Tyler Willey tossed in a three to keep Mount Abe at least within striking distance.
The Eagles then cut the lead to six, 19-13, early in the second quarter, when Russell hit a three, and after another Winslow hoop inside, senior guard Joey Payea fed senior forward Tyrus Keith on the break at 5:00.
But then the Otters put the hammer down with a 14-0 run over the next 4:00 to take a 33-13 lead. Putbacks by Leary and Winslow got it started, despite a pair of blocked shots inside by Eagle freshman Jackson Counter. Norwood sank two threes, Winslow converted on the break with a nice feed from sophomore guard Derek Aines, and Gallip capped the surge with two free throws.
Payea snapped the run with two free throws at 1:19 and added a putback, but Gallipo countered with a putback of his own and a three-pointer to make it 38-17 at the half.
OV then opened the second half with buckets inside by Josef Scarborough and Winslow and an Aines three in the first 1:10, and at 45-17 any suspense was drained out of the gym.
Payea and Keith finished with six points each for the Eagles, and Peyton Keith added five. Tyrus Keith and Ty Combs pulled down the most boards for Mount Abe, and Keith also blocked two shots, one fewer than Counter’s total.
Estey said the Eagles, who host Randolph on Monday, will keep plugging.
“We’ll be in here Monday and we’ll see if we can be competitive,” he said. “We’re trying to take one possession at a time, a quarter at a time, and be competitive.”
Hughes said he knows that the Otters have a tougher schedule ahead than they have faced so far, including games at Middlebury on Tuesday and home vs. Mill River on Friday.
He said his main focus will remain “improving each game,” but that he is confident in his team’s prospects.
“This is a good group. I think we have a lot of different weapons,” Hughes said. “There’s definitely a lot of promise there.”

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