VUHS boys’ hoop outlasts Tigers in defensive game

MIDDLEBURY — In a Tuesday battle of two improving high school boys’ basketball teams played before an energized crowd, including many costumed and noisy students rooting for host Middlebury, visiting Vergennes outlasted MUHS, 55-50.
The 7-9 Commodores, now winners of six of their past nine games, led almost wire-to-wire but had to respond to repeated challenges from the 3-11 Tigers, who had won two of their past three and were coming off a big home win over 7-8 Milton.
The Commodores also put the clamps on the Tigers defensively in the fourth quarter after MUHS cut the lead to 43-41 at 7:15. MUHS managed just two free throws over the next 5:45 as VUHS extended the lead to 49-43 before hitting six of eight from the line in the final minute to seal the win.
VUHS junior guard Adam Gill, who scored a game-high 23 points, said the Commodores dug in on defense as the Tigers committed 12 second-half turnovers after just five in the first half.
“We just played really hard man-to-man,” Gill said. “We closed out well, and we got our boards.”
VUHS Coach Peter Quinn also credited the Tigers’ 3-2 zone with keeping his team in check.
“It was a decently played game for a couple of teams that have struggled this year to find wins,” Quinn said. “Both teams played decent D.”
First-year MUHS Coach Kyle Lussier was pleased with the Tigers’ effort, but said in rallying vs. Milton the Tigers gained and held onto a double-digit lead, while on Tuesday the turnovers were an issue.
“In the Milton game we found a way to make the plays, while today we found a way to turn it over those times,” Lussier said. “Both games we played well, but that was the big difference.”
Against Milton, Lussier said the Tigers were “buffering a 10-point lead,” while Tuesday’s game presented new tactical challenges. Moving forward, the Tigers will work on such things as when to foul and when to shoot in similar circumstances.
“This was the first close game we’ve had. Guys weren’t sure what to do,” he said.
The best VUHS quarter was the first, in which five Commodores scored, topped by two threes by junior guard Hunter O’Connor. Thanks to crisp ball movement and a 14-7 edge on the boards, VUHS took a 16-10 lead. Tiger senior point guard Nick Holmes kept his team close with six of his team-high 17 points.
The Tigers evened things out on the boards in the second, thanks largely to senior center Jon Fitzcharles and junior forward Trey Kaufmann, and also began to find their scoring touch: Fitzcharles, Holmes and senior guard Jack Hounchell each scored five in the period, and at 2:00 a Kaufmann floater in the lane gave MUHS its only lead, 29-28.
For VUHS, Gill and Josh Dam (11 points, eight rebounds) also combined for 15 points in the period, and they answered Kaufman’s hoop. Dam hit a baseline jumper at 1:40, and Gill added a free throw at 1:01, and VUHS led at the half, 31-29.
VUHS opened the second half with a drive by senior forward Tyler Kepes and a Dam post move in the post, and the lead was six. MUHS tied the game at 35-35 with drives by Holmes and Hounchell and a jumper by senior guard Liam Smith at 5:30. Gill came right back at MUHS with a three and a jumper on consecutive trips, and the lead was 40-35 at 4:50.
Then hoops became harder to come by. In the third, MUHS added transition baskets by Holmes and Fitzcharles, the latter assisted by Hounchell, and VUHS tacked on three free throws to take a 43-39 lead.
Hounchell went coast-to-coast at 7:15 of the fourth to make it 43-41. At 5:36, Gill scored in transition for VUHS, and at 5:11 two Kaufmann free throws made it 45-43. Gill sank two free throws at 4:31, and after a Tiger turnover, VUHS stalled and ran about 1:30 off the clock before VUHS junior guard Dylan Bradford and hit two free throws to make it 49-43 at 2:43.
After Holmes scored in transition to make it 49-45 at 1:30, MUHS had a chance to cut it to two, but with a minute to go Hounchell’s layup attempt under pressure rolled off the rum, and Dam grabbed the key rebound. Then MUHS had to foul.
Gill hit two at 0:51, Bradford hit three out of four, and Gill tacked on one more in the final seconds, enough to offset one Hounchell free throw and four points from Fitzcharles, a layup and two free throws.  
Fitzcharles finished with 11 points, Hounchell scored 10, and Kaufmann added six. 
Lussier said hard work in practice and a commitment to giving 100 percent on the floor helped the Tigers to start improving their play and results.
“Guys are playing with more energy. That’s the big key right there. We play hard, we make plays, and we have fun doing it,” he said.
For VUHS, Gill added five steals and four assists, Bradford chipped in seven points, and senior forward Josh Lorrain nabbed seven boards.
Gill said the Commodores, who started their season out at 1-6, are working on putting their best foot forward.
“We feel like inconsistency is our biggest problem, so we’re just trying to get more consistent,” Gill said, adding, “We’re getting closer every day, just really focusing it practice. It all starts in practice.”
Defeating the Tigers, who swept VUHS a year ago, was also enjoyable.
“Middlebury is always a hard team to play, so a win here is nice,” Gill said. 
Quinn would like to see the Commodores play more often like they did in the first quarter, but regardless he believes the Commodores are moving in the right direction as the playoffs approach.
“Each game we just keep trying to play well,” Quinn said. “If something catches fire, we have enough skill and we have enough scoring that we could do some damage.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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