Otter Valley basketball stifles Tigers, snaps loss streak
BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School boys’ basketball team on Tuesday used a mix of tough defensive looks to knock off visiting Middlebury, 51-40, and snap what had become a seven-game losing streak.
The second quarter proved to be pivotal. The margins in the first, third and fourth quarters were within a point or two one way or the other, but the Tigers struggled, particularly against OV’s 3-2 zone, as the Otters outscored them by 14-2 in the second period to lead at the half, 23-10.
OV junior Kai Norwood, who scored a game-high 16 points and added several clever assists, credited a defensive game plan that regularly switched from man-to-man to zone.
“We know it starts with defense, and that’s how we’re going to get our win,” Norwood said. “A lot of it came from we mixed it up. When we got a basket, we would be in full-court press, and if we missed, we dropped back into a zone. I feel like it confused them a little bit. I felt like it really helped us out, so it was a good call on the coaches’ part.”
First-year Tiger coach Kyle Lussier said his 1-6 team could have handled the zone more effectively in the first half, but that outside shots the Tigers are capable of making were still available.
“We had the looks we wanted. We just couldn’t get shots to fall. The ball just wasn’t rolling our way a little bit,” Lussier said. “We were a little slow to react in the middle of it. We had some good perimeter movement. We were moving well. Our interior guys weren’t filling the gaps, and Otter Valley was doing a great job of closing down when we did get the ball inside.”
OV coach Greg Hughes said the Otters (now 3-8) talked and executed well in their 3-2 zone and were able to get out to those perimeter shooters.
“(It was) communication, making sure we know where everybody is. And they didn’t run high post too much, which would have beat us. That’s where our weakness is. They didn’t throw anybody there, so we were able to match up whenever they moved the ball,” Hughes said. “And just our overall effort. We were motivated, and we were moving.”
OV led by just 9-8 after one period. OV junior Derek Aines scored seven points in the period, while the Tigers got two points each from four players. The Tigers, with senior center Jon Fitzcharles doing most of the heavy lifting, dominated the boards early on, but committed seven of their 17 turnovers in the first quarter and missed a chance to take the lead.
In the second period, as the Tigers turned the ball over five more times, their shots refused to drop. Still, it was just 12-10, OV, when Fitzcharles hit at 4:40 to answer a three by OV’s Shannon MacGregor.
Then OV took charge. Tyler Peterson laid in a feed from Norwood at 4:30, and Norwood drove for two more at 3:00. In the final two minutes, Norwood hit a foul-line jumper, Aines sank a short baseline jumper, and Aines beat the buzzer with a three to push the lead to 13 and complete an 11-0 run.
The Otters refused to allow the Tigers to cut into the lead in the second half. The closest MUHS came in the third was when senior point guard Nick Holmes opened the period with a three-pointer to make it 23-13, but a Norwood drive and trey quickly made it 28-13. The period ended at 34-21, OV, when senior forward Carson Leary converted an offensive rebound.
The teams kept trading baskets in the fourth, and only once did the Tigers cut the lead to single digits, on a drive by senior Jack Hounchell with 47 seconds to go that made it 46-38. But Josh Letourneau responded 13 seconds later with two free throws to make it 48-38. After Hounchell hit two free throws for the Tigers, Aines hit one free throw, and with seven seconds left Norwood iced the cake with a pair from the line.
For MUHS, Hounchell scored 11 points, and Holmes, Fitzcharles and Trey Kaufmann chipped in eight apiece. Fitzcharles and Kaufmann led the way as the Tigers, including team and deadball rebounds, earned a 41-29 edge on the boards.
Lussier acknowledged the 1-6 Tigers have not played their best after a long layoff — a period of steady improvement culminated with a 62-47 home win over Burr & Burton back on Dec. 17, but they did not play again until a one-sided loss at St. Albans on Dec. 29 and then again on Tuesday.
He pledged they would work hard to recapture their December progress.
“It took us a while to get there. It just feels like we’re almost starting over now. We’ll have to build ourselves back up to it,” Lussier said. “We’ve just got to figure out what changes we need to make to get back there. Obviously we’re missing something right now. We’ve just got to find the missing piece and make sure we get back there.”
Aines finished with 13 point for OV, while Tyler Allen added eight and Dylan Mackie scored five.
Hughes talked more about what all the Otters contributed at the other end.
“It was an all-around team effort,” he said. “We pushed the ball and did well on offense, but defensively is where we won that.”
Norwood said he hopes Tuesday’s result can prove to be a turning point.
“It feels great. It’s a great confidence booster,” he said. “I feel like we can keep it going.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].