MUHS boys’ hoop teamwork is too much for Otters

MIDDLEBURY — Ball movement, rebounding and defense are tried-and-true elements of successful basketball.
And on Tuesday vs. visiting Otter Valley, the Middlebury Union High School boys’ team racked up 22 assists; outrebounded the Otters, 37-28, including 20-12 in the decisive second half; and held talented OV senior guard Dylan Mackie to nine points, the first time in three games Mackie had scored fewer than 20.
The result was a 66-59 victory that pushed the Tigers to 2-0, and at the same time was the 2-1 Otters’ first loss.
First-year Tiger Coach John Howe afterward pointed to those assists, which by his calculation led to 48 of the Tigers’ 66 points. Howe said in the Tigers’ first game, a 66-45 win at Enosburg, more than half of their points came directly from assists.
“They played beautifully,” Howe said. “They’re moving the ball quickly. They’re anticipating where their teammates are going to be. They’re understanding how to find the open spot when they need to, the things we talk about every day in practice. I couldn’t be happier with what I’m seeing.”
OV Coach Greg Hughes was less pleased with his Otters. He accurately counted after the game the points the Tigers picked up in transition or after offensive rebounds, and said his team has to do better in those departments and in providing help on defense — Tiger senior forward Parker Beatty scored a dozen of his 17 points taking the ball to the hoop.
“They must have had 15, 20 points off of fast breaks, second-chance points. We didn’t drop in to help every time that No. 2 (Beatty) drove,” Hughes said. “That’s all effort. I think that’s where our downfall was.”
Tiger junior guard Tyler Buxton also had good luck attacking the basket — and shooting jumpers. He led the Tigers with 21 points, and chipped in eight rebounds and three steals. Beatty also provided team highs of 13 rebounds, six assists and three blocks; senior swingman Spencer Cadoret recorded 11 points and three assists; and senior point guard Zach Dunn helped defend Mackie and chipped in nine points and three assists.
Dunn said he had plenty of help guarding Mackie; senior Tim Goettelmann, sophomores Gabe Dunn and Karic Riche, and junior Jeff Lokatys also took turns.
“We had really good support from the bench today. We had a game plan to shut down No. 3 (Mackie), their top scorer, he’s really good,” Dunn said. “So we were throwing bodies at him all night, and therefore their offense didn’t work as well.”
Zach Dunn set the tone early, setting up two Buxton hoops and hitting a jumper as the Tigers took a quick 9-3 lead. But OV senior Tyler Rowe scored five of his game- and career-high 25 points in the period and Mackie hit a late three to help OV emerge from the quarter with a 12-11 lead.
The Tigers started quickly in the second quarter, too, with a 9-2 run to make it 20-14. Gabe Dunn came in to score a transition hoop set up by Beatty and assist one of two Beatty buckets inside, and Cadoret nailed a three.
Then Rowe heated up with consecutive threes to tie the game. Then OV took a 29-24 lead on scoring from senior Delshon Norwood, a Jack Adams three and a Mackie drive. But Buxton answered with two threes in the final minute, and the Tigers led at the break, 30-29.
The teams traded punches in the third. MUHS took a 40-34 lead on a three and a fast-break hoop by Zach Dunn, both assisted by Beatty, and then a Buxton drive at 3:25. But OV closed the quarter with a 13-8 surge that included two Mackie free throws, a Julian Lopez post move, three Norwood points, and two Rowe threes, and it was 48-47, MUHS, entering the fourth quarter.
The Tigers then took charge quickly. Buxton drove for two, Beatty scored inside, and Cadoret hit a three at 6:45. A Rowe jumper made it 55-49, but Cadoret nailed another three, and after a Beatty putback pushed the lead to 60-49 Hughes called for time at 4:57.
At 3:20 the Otters won a wild scramble for the ball and Mackie set up a Rowe jumper that made it 62-55, but they couldn’t get a shot to fall over the next two minutes, and the Tigers hit enough free throws to nail down the win.
Norwood finished with 14 points, Mackie scored nine, and senior forward Pat McKeighan added six for OV, which will host Vergennes on Friday.
Hughes credited the Tigers on Tuesday, but will be looking for better focus and defense from the Otters on Friday.
“Sixty-six is unacceptable. We shouldn’t allow that many points,” Hughes said. “They (MUHS) outhustled us, outplayed us. I think they wanted it more than us tonight.”
For MUHS Gabe Dunn added six points and four assists, and sophomore Mason Kaufmann grabbed seven rebounds.
Zach Dunn said the board work was pivotal down the stretch, and said the Tigers, coming off a six-win season, are increasingly believing in themselves.
“We’re very confident. We’re already looking forward to the next game,” Dunn said. “We’re just going to improve every game, and by the end of the season our chemistry is going to be topnotch.” 
The Tigers will host Mill River on Friday before a tough stretch of three games against Metro teams. But Howe is just pleased to see their progress, especially the teamwork and ball movement.
“That’s what a team sport is about. Everybody gets excited when we make a great pass that leads to a basket. The bench gets up and screams and yells,” Howe said. “I’m really happy.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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