Otter boys’ basketball team starts fast, defeats Eagle boys

BRISTOL — The Otter Valley Union High School boys’ basketball team has relied on the scoring of senior guard Josh Letourneau and junior guard Dylan Mackie this winter. Entering Saturday’s game at Mount Abraham the two had combined for more than 30 points per game, with no other Otter in double figures.
Understandably, then, Eagle Coach Martin Clark used a triangle-and-two defense to start out, with two guards chasing the OV standouts and three others protecting the paint.
One part of the plan worked: The standout pair combined for two points in the period, when Letourneau took a feed from Mackie in transition and laid the ball in.
The problem for the 4-4 Eagles was that hoop closed the quarter and made it 21-6, OV.  The Eagles only late in the game cut the lead to fewer than 10 points as the 5-4 Otters cruised to a 58-46 win.
In that first period the rest of the Otters sank shot after shot. Junior forward Tyler Rowe hit a three, a jumper and a layup; junior guard Patrick McKeighan drained two three-pointers; senior forward Payson Williams hit a jumper and converted a cut on an inbounds play; and senior forward Kollin Bessette nailed a turnaround jumper.
It was 12-0 with 3:15 to go before Eagle sophomore forward Liam Kelliher finally sank a jumper against the Otters’ swarming man-to-man defense.
OV Coach Greg Hughes said he had been waiting for more Otters to assert themselves, and he was happy to see it happen on Friday.
“This might be the game that gets the rest of the guys into it,” Hughes said. “Hopefully that sends a message to the rest of the league that you can’t really play a triangle-and-two, because that just gives us open shots.”
Clark’s game plan made sense given: Letourneau (34) and Mackie (16) combined for 50 points in OV’s 73-61 win over Mount Abe on Jan. 3. On Friday he credited the other Otters for answering the call.
“That was our game plan initially, to try to make the other guys beat us. They stepped up to the challenge,” Clark said.
The Otters’ defense also took the Eagles out of their rhythm, especially early on, Clark said. 
“Otter Valley is fast offensively and just as fast defensively. They push you to limits you’re not used to playing. That’s basically what happened to us in the first period. We weren’t ready for their speed,” he said. 
Eagle senior forwards Jackson Counter and Dustin Whitcomb got untracked and combined for all 17 Mount Abe points in the second period. But with Letourneau breaking loose for six and Williams and Rowe adding five each — even though the Eagles switched to a 1-3-1 zone and then to man-to-man on defense — Mount Abe could not cut into the lead, and it was 39-23 at the break.
The Eagles worked hard on defense in the third, notably with junior Logan Willey harassing the ballhandlers, and the Otters scored only one point in the first five-and-a-half-minutes. But the Eagles cut the lead just to 40-28 in that stretch with a Counter hoop inside, a layup from junior guard Logan Rodriguez and a free throw from junior forward Shain Sargent.
“I thought we did pretty well defensively, but we couldn’t hit a shot to keep us in the game,” Clark said.
Late in the period a Williams hoop set up by Letourneau and two buckets from McKeighan helped OV push the lead to 46-31 entering the fourth.
In the fourth a three from Rodriguez, two threes from Counter, and three hoops by Kelliher, two assisted by Whitcomb, helped the Eagles close to within 54-46 with a minute-and-a-half to go despite three Letourneau drives. But OV hit free throws to nail down the win.
Letourneau (17 points), McKeighan (13) and Rowe and Williams (12 each) led OV, and the Otters outrebounded Mount Abe, 29-25.
Hughes said he rebounding is one of “the little things” that the Otters must work on if they are to succeed against a tough schedule: Seven of their remaining 11 games are against Fair Haven, Mill River, Woodstock and Mount Anthony, teams with a collective 31-6 record.
“We’ve got a solid, experienced team,” Hughes said. “If we come out and play with good passes, boxing out and looking to attack on the glass, I think we have a good chance of winning a lot of games.”
The Eagles were led by Counter (19), Kelliher (10), Rodriguez (eight) and Whitcomb (seven).
The Eagles were coming off a Wednesday game in which they bolted to a 33-12 halftime lead on the way to a 54-46 victory over Randolph (1-4). Whitcomb (13 points) and Liam Kelliher (12) led a balanced attack.
Clark said the team’s better record this year is a product of the Eagles being “a little more focused” and of that offensive balance.
 “It’s very encouraging, and it’s not just three or four guys, it’s someone different every night,” Clark said. “That’s basically the offense we run. It should be whoever gets the opportunity should be scoring. So that’s been working out. We’ve just got to keep improving. We’ve got to keep working hard and find a way to get those four quarters all together and I think we’ll be fine against those stronger teams.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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