MUHS boys’ basketball tops Otters to get back on track

MIDDLEBURY — In a hard-fought boys’ basketball game on Tuesday, host Middlebury won the battles of the boards and turnovers and showed more offensive balance in subduing visiting Otter Valley, 69-51.
A 21-10 edge in the second quarter also proved to be decisive. In that period, guard Oakley Gordon and forwards Sam Holmes and Bryce Burrell combined for 19 points as the Tigers took a 31-18 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Otters three times cut the lead to 11, the last time on a drive by Kai Norwood early in the fourth that made it 52-41.
But the Tigers answered that hoop with an 11-2 run that pushed the lead to a game-high 20, 63-43, with 4:05 to go.
Gordon, who pumped in a team-high 25 points as MUHS overcame John Winslow’s 32-point and 13 rebounds, said it was a big win for the Tigers (4-3) after they had suffered a 20-point home loss to Rutland three days earlier.
“It wasn’t a must-win, but it was a good thing to get back on track and kind of start fresh in a way,” Gordon said.
MUHS Coach Chris Altemose said his team had not played with poise vs. the Raiders, a Division I contender. He called Tuesday’s effort vs. a 6-2 OV team a step forward.
“Against Rutland I thought we played timid. We lacked confidence and lacked aggressiveness,” Altemose said. “We definitely needed a bounce-back tonight, and the guys came out ready to do that.”
OV coach Greg Hughes saw his team’s six-game winning streak snapped, but was not unhappy with the Otters’ effort against the D-I Tigers after playing a schedule including four D-III and D-IV foes.
“Our guys came ready to play. They were excited for this game. A couple things didn’t go our way in a couple different places, but overall I think we played pretty well,” Hughes said.  
Hughes agreed the Tigers’ edge on the boards (41-34, including team and dead-ball rebounds) and turnovers (OV committed 17 to the Tigers’ 11) were pivotal.
“Their pressure forced us into a lot more turnovers than we would like. Offensive rebounds were definitely a killer. They got a lot of loose balls and second shots,” Hughes said. “It would have been a different game if we did some of those small, little things.”
TIGER SENIOR BRYCE Burrell pulls in a rebound during Middlebury’s 69-51 win over Otter Valley Tuesday night. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The Tigers led by just 10-8 after one period as they committed six of their turnovers in that quarter. Three hoops from Gordon, two of them conversions of steals, and buckets by Bobby Ritter and Austin Robinson accounted for the Tiger points, while Winslow scored six for OV, and Connor Gallipo (five points) hit a late jumper.
Gordon and Winslow dueled early in the second. Gordon hit two threes and converted another OV turnover, while Winslow sank two of his four three-pointers, and it was 18-14 at 5:10.
Then the Tigers closed the period with a 13-4 run. Burrell (14 points, six boards, three assists) converted a putback and hit two free throws after another offensive board, Ritter (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists) hit a jumper, and forward Sam Holmes (seven points, six boards) closed out the period by converting two Burrell feeds and hitting three free throws. Winslow scored all of OV’s points in that stretch, but the Tigers led by 31-18.
Both offenses erupted in the third period, as OV outscored MUHS, 21-19. Winslow’s two free throws at 4:35 cut the lead to 11, 37-26. But the Tigers answered with a 7-0 run: a Gordon three-pointer, a Connor Quinn hoop on the break set up by Gordon, and a Burrell score in the post assisted by Ritter, and the lead was 18, 44-26.
OV answered as Derek Aines took it to the basket, and Norwood (five of his seven points in the period) also drove twice, scoring once and hitting a free throw after a foul. Then Winslow sank a three at 1:20, and the lead was 12, 46-34. The teams traded hoops, and Gallipo’s three as the quarter ended made it 50-49.
Gordon and Norwood traded drives to the hoop to open the fourth, and then the Tigers took charge. Ritter hit a three and set up Burrell in the post, and after Winslow scored to make it 57-43, the Tigers ran off six straight points. Gordon hit a pull-up in the lane, Quinn fed Burrell in the post, and Ritter set up Burrell’s jumper that made it 63-43 at 4:05. Soon afterward, the coaches emptied their benches.
Carson Leary added 13 rebounds for OV, while Norwood added five boards during a game that Hughes said would be valuable for the Otters.
“This is a great opportunity and a great game for us to play in, just to give us a little more opportunity to play against teams that maybe we shouldn’t beat,” Hughes said. “Maybe we should have to strive to play a little bit better, a little bit harder, want it a little bit more. So these are good games, even if we lose.”
Altemose praised OV.
“Otter Valley played real hard and came in ready to play, and Winslow is a tough player,” he said. “We knew about him. It’s not like it was a surprise. We were trying to not let him do that, and he still did it.”
Altemose also praised the work of Quinn and Ritter on OV’s secondary scoring threats, Norwood and Gallipo, respectively, as well as Holmes’ effort against Winslow when Robinson (nine rebounds) ran into foul trouble.
Altemose also noted only Rutland has outrebounded his team this winter, pointed to the Tigers’ 13 assists, and said they played on Tuesday at the uptempo pace that best suits them.
“Our team played nicely together tonight, and we got to play the tempo we wanted tonight for the most part. We were able to get up and down the court. We battled hard on the boards against some big, strong guys,” he said.
And Gordon said the Tigers should be able to succeed as long as they remain confident and keep working.
“We have a great team,” he said. “League play, we’re not concerned about. We’ll just take it one game at a time and play tough.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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