Tiger boys upend Commodores with last second three-pointer
VERGENNES — When asked, Middlebury Union High School senior Ryan Miller said he had hit plenty of buzzer-beating, game-winning shots before Friday night in the Vergennes gym, when his three-pointer with four seconds to go lifted the Tigers to a 38-37 victory over the Commodores.
But Miller said those all came in his imagination.
“Maybe in the driveway at home counting down the clock, but in a game situation that was the first time,” he said.
With the Tigers team down by 37-35 with 9.6 seconds to go, Coach Kyle Lussier drew up the play for Miller, who doesn’t start but is the Tigers’ best long-range option — back on Jan. 23 he sank four fourth-quarter three-pointers to help MUHS defeat Milton.
The Tigers inbounded to point guard Nick Holmes near midcourt, and he drove toward the left side of the lane and dished to Miller on the left flank. Miller was ready, telling himself, “Just have confidence. I’ve been hitting in practice.”
His high-arching shot caught some rim, but rattled in, leaving VUHS Coach Peter Quinn to call time with 3.2 seconds to go. The Commodores managed to advance the ball into the front court, but a desperation shot went astray, making the driveway dream a reality.
“It’s pretty crazy right now. It’s just kind of unreal,” Miller said. “It was the biggest shot I’ve hit in my career by far. It was an exciting moment, and something I’ll never forget.”
The Tigers finished with three wins in their final four games and a 6-13 record, which will apparently earn them the No. 15 seed and a date with No. 2 defending champion Rice (17-3).
It also meant a win at rival VUHS, which had defeated the Tigers at MUHS earlier this winter.
“Our final regular season game of the year, to come here and get a win was big for us,” Miller said.
The Commodores, meanwhile, finished with three straight home losses to stand at 8-12. Quinn said the Tigers played well defensively in their 3-2 zone, making it difficult for the Commodores to feed their post players. But he was not happy his team failed to follow the game plan of being patient and working the ball inside. Instead, the Commodores attempted 22 three-pointers and made just three.
“It was senior night, with a lot of emotion in the house, but it didn’t translate into good basketball,” Quinn said. “Middlebury did a nice job with their zone. We were so impatient attacking it. We, again, at our worst, settle for threes and just fire three after three. And if we don’t fix that, we’re going to have one more game left.”
Neither team gained any offensive traction in the first quarter, which ended with MUHS up, 8-6. Junior guard Dylan Bradford and senior forward Josh Dam gave VUHS some life in the second period, combining for 11 points as the Commodores moved to a 21-17 halftime lead. Holmes scored six points and senior center Jonathan Fitzcharles had five to keep MUHS close in the half.
MUHS cut the lead to one, 21-20, three minutes into the third period when Holmes fed junior guard Pierson Beatty in transition. Two free throws by junior guard Adam Gill at 4:17 broke the VUHS drought. Then Gill scored on the break, and two free throws by senior Josh Lorrain made it 27-20 at 0:34.
Senior Tiger guard Jack Hounchell, who provided the Tigers with a consistent spark off the bench, finished the third quarter by driving for a three-point play and opened the fourth by assisting junior forward Trey Kaufmann. At 6:40, Holmes hit a three, and MUHS led, 28-27. Dam answered with a three, but VUHS did not score for the next four minutes. In the meantime, a Kaufmann jumper at 3:30 tied the game, at two Holmes free throws at 2:33 made it 32-30, MUHS.
Dam scored in transition from Gill at 2:25 to tie the game again, and a Fitzcharles free throw at 2:15 made it 33-32. Two Dam free throws at 1:12 made it 34-33, but at 0:22 Holmes drove and dished to Fitzcharles for a tough hoop in traffic, and MUHS led.
Bradford drove for a three-point play at 12.7 for yet another lead change, but then Miller’s driveway dream came true for the Tigers.
Holmes finished with 11 points and three assists, Fitzcharles had nine points and helped the Tigers hold their own on the boards, and Hounchell added five.
Dam paced VUHS with 13 points and 10 boards, Bradford scored eight, and Gill scored seven with four assists. VUHS also allowed injured senior Aaron Gaines, out with a knee injury, to start the game and earn an ovation from the big crowd.
VUHS will probably draw No. 6 Enosburg (14-6), which has fared better vs. common foes. Quinn said the Commodores will have to play with more discipline.
“It’s still a team with a lot of talent,” he said. “But talent doesn’t get you victories.”