Commodore boys’ basketball scores 15 in overtime to defeat Eagles, 79-69
VERGENNES — As usual, Friday’s game between the Mount Abraham Union High School boys and the host Commodores packed the Vergennes gym.
Even more than usual, with the backdrop of the battling student section chants, the cheerleading acrobatics and the VUHS pep band’s tight brass section, fans got their money’s worth in the duel between the friendly rivals.
Among other things, Mount Abe, a 4-4 team on the rise after two forgettable seasons, on Friday offered a long-range, game-tying buzzer-beater from senior guard Jack Willis and seven three-pointers from classmate Chris Wood, two of which came back-to-back in overtime and gave the Eagles a 66-63 lead with three minutes to go.
The Commodores countered with their best ball movement, offensive balance and rebounding of the season; showed for the first time the ability to bounce back from late-game adversity; and earned their first victory of the winter, 79-69 in overtime, when leading scorer Adam Gill erupted for 11 straight points in 1:40 to erase that 66-63 deficit.
In all, Gill scored 15 of his 23 points in the four-minute overtime, adding five assists. But he noted the team effort: The Commodores out-rebounded the Eagles, counting team rebounds, 51-43, with Lance Bergmans (16 points) and Devon Kimball (six points, five assists) grabbing 10 boards apiece; and Dylan Bradford scoring a game-high 26 points and added six boards.
“It’s Mount Abe. We all were fired up today. Everybody was ready to play. Everybody did their job. We played as hard as we could,” Gill said. “And we came out with the win.”
Mount Abe coach Martin Clark agreed the Commodores got to more 50-50 rebounds and loose balls than the Eagles, but said his team performed well, too. Vergennes’ offensive execution might have made the difference, he said.
“They definitely came out with a little more energy than we had. In the long run, both teams played very well. Our goal was to limit their points offensively, and we couldn’t do it,” Clark said. “Vergennes made the plays.”
VUHS Coach Peter Quinn said his team could have contained the Eagles better, particularly Wood, who probably hit at least 70 percent of his three-point attempts in finishing with 24 points. But he was happy with the offense.
“It was our best offensive game, by far,” Quinn said. “I was very encouraged, and maybe it’s the win talking, but we had actually less dribbling and better ball movement today than we’ve had in any game this year.”
Both teams came out firing in the first half, which ended with VUHS on top, 37-36. To that point, Bradford (10 points, two threes), Bergmans (nine) and Kimball (six) had done most of the Commodores’ damage, while eight Eagles had scored: Wood had 12, including three first quarter treys; center Finn Clements came off the bench to chip in six; and forward Jackson Counter had four.
The Commodores started to play better defense in the third period and in the first 4:20 held the Eagles to putback by Caleb Bonvouloir, who scored 10 points and rebounded well off the bench. In the meantime, Bradford drove for two and hit two free throws, Hunter O’Connor (five points) hit a free throw, and Gill drove for a hoop to make it 44-38 at 4:20.
The Eagles answered with better defense and a 7-1 run to tie the score at 45-45 after three. Bonvouloir drove for two, Counter converted a Willis feed, and Dustin Whitcomb (seven points) completed a three-point play after snagging an offensive board.
In the fourth quarter, buckets by Bergmans and Bradford helped give VUHS the lead, but Wood sank another three at 6:05 to put the Eagles on top, 50-49. A Ryan Bonar putback made it 52-49, but VUHS responded.
A Bergmans transition hoop cut the lead to one, and Bradford cut to the basket to make it 53-52, VUHS at 3:50. Twenty seconds later, Gill found Casey Kimball in transition, and it was 55-52. Cue Wood: His fifth three of the game came 15 seconds later and tied the score at 55-55.
But Gill was breaking loss after being the focus of the Eagle defense all night. At 2:20 he fed Bergmans on the break, and at 1:30 Gill floated in a baseline jumper, and VUHS led, 59-55. Bergmans added a free throw at 43.5, and VUHS led by five.
The Eagles weren’t done. Whitcomb sank a jumper at 0:38 to make it 60-57, when VUHS missed two free throws at 0:17, Mount Abe was alive.
The ball went to Willis on the left flank. He shot moving right-to-left with a hand in his face — nothing but net as the horn sounded. The Eagles and their fans celebrated.
They came to their feet again when Wood answered Bradford’s three-point play with his back-to-back threes in overtime. Then Gill took over. He hit two free throws at 2:39 and a floater in the lane at 2:15, and VUHS led, 67-66.
Then came a three-pointer, two free throws, and a lay-up on a feed from Devon Kimball, and it all added up to 11 unanswered, game-clinching points in 1:40.
“I play the game all the time,” Gill said. “I make those shots all the time.”
With the Eagles coming off two winless seasons and after an exciting game at a tough place to win, Clark was not too upset. He was pleased that his team fought back to force overtime.
“There’s no quit in these boys. There hasn’t been in three-and-a-half years now. But finally they’re able to be in games and have a chance to win,” Clark said. “That’s good to see.”
Gill said the result can help springboard the Commodores into the rest of their Lake Division schedule.
“It’s awesome. We’ve had a tough schedule to start the season, and it feels great,” Gill said. “We’ve been waiting for it, eight games, obviously, and we’re ready for the Lake.”
Quinn saw a step forward because until Friday his 1-8 Commodores have not been able to win close games, and said they have potential in their league schedule.
“There’s not a game that we can’t win, and there’s also probably not a game that we can’t lose the rest of the way. So if we play well, we can control our destiny. And that’s a really nice feeling after you’ve won your first game,” he said. “The proof will be in the next game, how we come out and play and how we pick up our defensive intensity.”