Commodores basketball comes up short vs. Bulldogs

VERGENNES — The struggles continued on Monday night for a Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team that opened the winter with high hopes.
Visiting Burr & Burton (4-2), coming off a 15-point loss at Middlebury, closed the game at Vergennes on a 15-4 run to defeat the Commodores, 57-47. It was VUHS’s sixth straight setback after a promising opening win at South Burlington.
The Commodores showed flashes of potential as they and Burr & Burton traded runs and the lead throughout the game. But the Commodores couldn’t maintain consistency, as they turned the ball over 20 times and allowed the smaller Bulldogs to earn a 44-30 edge on the boards, including team and deadball rebounds.
Coach Peter Quinn said the Commodores had shown progress in a five-point loss at Mill River three days before, but he was not happy about the implications of the turnover and rebound numbers on Monday.
“We are not playing hard enough right now, or smart enough,” Quinn said.
For example, twice VUHS allowed the smallest player on the court, Bulldog Tyriq Williams, to grab key offensive boards. The second time came with less than two minutes to go. After VUHS senior forward Tyler Kepes converted a pass from classmate Josh Dam on the break to make it 49-45, Bulldogs, the Commodores sent Williams to the line.
Williams missed both, but grabbed the rebound in the scramble that followed and gave the ball to teammate Dylan Little, who then hit two free throws at 1:38 to make it a six-point game.
Quinn said the Commodores are simply not boxing out.
“We are just plain not doing it,” he said.
And against the Bulldogs’ 2-2-1 zone press, Quinn said the Commodores were effective if they ran their sets, but at times failed to do so, leading to many of their turnovers.
“When we’re disciplined and set up our press break, we’re fine. But we tend to start playing the game like it’s a pick-up game,” he said.
Still, the game was competitive throughout, with the teams trading surges. VUHS took a 9-3 lead in the first six minutes, with senior forward Josh Lorrain (10 points) converting two feeds from Dam and one from junior guard Adam Gill, and Dam hitting a three.
But the Bulldogs closed to 10-9 at the close of the first period with six points in the final minute as the Commodores’ problems began to crop up: Camden Bunker converted an offensive rebound, Williams laid in a steal, and Carter Vickers (14 points) scored in transition. At the other end, a free throw by junior guard Hunter O’Connor made it 10-9, VUHS after one.
The Bulldogs opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run with four players scoring, including a three by Bryce Little (11 points) and a putback by the pesky Williams.
But then the Commodores found a spark off the bench from junior guard Dylan Bradford (eight points, three assists). Bradford scored six in the quarter, while Gill (11 points) had five and set up a Kepes hoop in transition as VUHS cut the lead to 25-23 at the half.
Two Lorrain free throws and then a steal and layup by O’Connor (seven points, four steals) gave VUHS the lead, 27-25, to open the second half. B&B answered with a 7-2 run triggered by a Griffin Stalcup three to lead, 32-29, but then VUHS countered: Kepes (eight points and 14 rebounds) took the ball to the hoop, and O’Connor converted another steal, one of 17 Bulldog turnovers, and hit a jumper at 1:05 to make it 35-32, VUHS.
But the Bulldogs scored eight points in the third quarter’s final 48 seconds to take a 40-35 lead into the fourth: Dylan Little hit a three, Williams ripped another steal loose and scored, and Stalcup beat the buzzer with a three.
Then it was the Commodores’ — and Gill’s — turn as the final period opened. Gill hit the lane at 6:35, stole the ball and laid it in 10 seconds later, and at 5:30 hit two free throws to make it 41-40, VUHS. Vickers hit a free throw at 4:59 to tie the game, and Williams stole the ball and sank a free throw to make it 42-41.
Bradford nailed a baseline jumper at 4:25 to give VUHS its last lead, 43-42, but then the Bulldogs took charge. Bunker hit two free throws at 3:58 to make it 44-43, and a Bryce Little offensive rebound at 3:10 made it 46-43. Vickers went to the line twice in the next minute, hitting three of four to make it 49-43.
Dam’s pass to Kepes made it a four-point game at 2:40. VUHS fouled Williams at 1:46, and he missed both, but grabbed the board and sent Dylan Little to the line to make two free throws. Down the stretch, only Kepes connected one more time for VUHS while the Bulldogs made six of 12 from the line to pull away.  
Quinn said Kepes had a strong effort on the boards, and that Devon Kimball and Josh Newton played well off the bench.
But he believes his team is capable of more than it is showing. 
“We have way too much talent to be this bad right now. So I’ve just challenged my seniors,” Quinn said. “It’s their season. They need to decide how badly then want to win, and to decide if they want to play the way I think they know they need to play in order to win.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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