Eagle boys’ basketball moves to 3-2 on buzzer-beater

BRISTOL — As Mount Abraham Union High School senior forward Jackson Counter passed the ball out of the left corner to his junior teammate Dustin Whitcomb, the Eagle fans were just beginning to chant down the final seconds of Tuesday’s home game vs. Randolph.
Five, four, three…
After 10 lead changes in the previous eight minutes, the score was knotted at 47-47. Counter had scored 10 of his 14 points in those eight minutes, twice giving the Eagles the lead with driving three-point plays.
But the Ghosts (0-5) kept answering, most notably forward Greg Johnson. Johnson tied the game at 41-41 with a free throw at 3:56, gave the Ghosts a 45-43 lead with an offensive rebound at 2:15, and — after Eagle senior guard Coleman Russell put his team up, 47-45, with two clutch free throws at 0:27 — made it 47-47 with a post-up jumper at 0:16.
Eagle Coach Martin Clark called a time out at 0:11 to set up Counter in the far corner.
Clark praised Counter for making a smart read. The Ghosts surrounded him, and rather than try to drive or force a pass through the crowd, Counter found Whitcomb open on the side of the arc.
“He (Counter) was having a good quarter,” Clark said. “He was taking it strong to the basket, and that’s what they expected. That’s why they collapsed. We ran a couple cutters through, and pulled the defenders into the middle, and then it opened up for Dustin, and Jackson made the right play.”
During the timeout Clark had just subbed back in Whitcomb, who at that point had two points — a game-tying jumper at 2:20 of the fourth. 
Whitcomb said the Eagle fans helped him out.
“I heard the crowd counting down, and I looked at the clock,” Whitcomb said. “I knew I had to shoot.”
Four, three, two…
Whitcomb took a couple dribbles toward the middle as the Ghost defenders scrambled to deal with the new threat.
Three, two, one…
They were too late. Whitcomb shot a runner from just behind the circle as the fans yelled “two.”
The ball swished through the net. The horn sounded as the ball bounced on the end line. The Eagles mobbed Whitcomb at center court.
The Eagles had won, 50-47. 
“It doesn’t happen very often,” said Clark, whose team improved to 3-2. “When Jackson had the ball in the corner and it opened up for Dustin I was just hoping Jackson would hit him and give us that opportunity. I had confidence in Dustin because he’s a great young shooter, and I feel like he’s going to contribute a lot to us by the end of the year.”
Of course, the victory is especially sweet for a team whose three wins are three more than their past two seasons combined. Many of the Eagle seniors — including Counter — are three-year veterans.
Clark said that experience is finally paying off. 
“They know what it’s about. They’re a little more poised, a little more confident on the court. And it’s definitely going to help us for the long run in the season,” he said.
Many of those veterans put the Eagles in position to win on Tuesday. They had started quickly, taking a 12-4 lead in the first 4:09 as all five starters — seniors Russell, Jack Willis, Chris Wood and Finn Clements, and Counter — scored.
But with Wood and Russell in foul trouble, the Eagles struggled against the Ghost press and aggressive man-to-man defense. After the Eagles took a 14-11 first quarter lead, Randolph, behind forwards Travis Gray (17 points overall) and Johnson (14), dominated the second quarter to take a 25-21 lead at the break.
Willis, who tied Counter for the team lead with 14 points, kept the Eagles close in the first half — he scored all seven of their second-quarter points as well as their final points of the first quarter.
Russell’s eight points included a three-pointer that made it 26-24, Ghosts, early in the third period, as well as his clutch late free throws.
Wood scored six, harassed the Ghost ballhandlers and set the tone for Mount Abe defensively, and helped Counter on the boards. “Chris Wood, I can’t say enough about him,” Clark said.
Multiple contributors and balanced scoring, such as was the case on Tuesday, have been keys to Mount Abe’s early-season success, Clark said.
“We’re stressing team basketball and trying to get everyone involved,” Clark said. “Guys are gaining confidence every time they step on the court, and it’s great to see. We’re getting multiple guys in double figures almost every night.”
Clark also expects some of the team’s other juniors to join the party.
“I think we’re going to get some great efforts from the juniors, like Dustin stepped up tonight,” he said.
Certainly, the Eagles are enjoying this winter a little more than the past two.
“Yeah, we’re having fun,” Whitcomb said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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