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MUHS boys’ basketball outlasts host VUHS

VERGENNES — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team continued its winning ways on Tuesday, but it was not easy: Scrappy host Vergennes shrugged off a slow start and took the Tigers down to the wire in a 56-53 setback.
First-year Coach John Howe’s Tigers improved to 9-2, thanks in part to 14 points apiece from seniors Parker Beatty and Tyler Buxton and 12 from junior Jeffrey Lokatys. And they remained firmly in contention for a top-four seed in Division I.
Howe credited the 2-9 Commodores both for their effort and their in-game adjustments.
“Vergennes played a phenomenal game,” Howe said. “They executed well defensively. They figured out how to get through the press that was giving them a hard time in the first half. That’s really a credit to good coaching and players who listen. More power to them. I thought both teams played well. I’m glad to walk out with a win, for sure.”
Senior forward Ezekiel Palmer sparked the Commodores with 15 points and 15 rebounds, while junior forward Kevin Jackson (18 points) and junior guard Zeke McGee (nine points, two assists off the bench) combined for 14 of the 17 VUHS first-half points after MUHS took an 8-0 lead after six minutes.
The Commodores have had disappointing results overall, and first-year Coach Josh Carter said efforts like Tuesday’s could mean a stronger second half of the season for VUHS. 
“It was unbelievable tonight. I think they really stepped up to a rivalry game and locked in,” Carter said. “Everybody really bought into the team today and came out and played hard. I was really happy.”
VUHS FORWARD GAGE Lalumiere dribbles round the back of the Middlebury defense in the second quarter Tuesday as the Commodores tried to break the Tigers’ 3-2 zone.
Independent photo/Steve James
Beatty dominated the first period with eight points and two blocked shots as the Tigers took a 12-5 lead after eight minutes. McGee scored the first points for the Commodores, two free throws at 2:09, and also assisted their only basket of the quarter, a three-pointer by junior Aidan Scott.
McGee’s ballhandling also provided a template for the Commodores on how to break down the Tigers’ 3-2 zone, and he and Jackson combined for all the points in a 9-4 second period run that cut Tiger lead to 16-14 2:15 before the half.
The Tigers answered with a 7-0 run, however — a three from senior forward Spencer Cadoret, senior point guard Zach Dunn’s second transition hoop of the period, and two Buxton free throws at 0:23 that made it 23-14. Jackson hit a free throw six seconds later, and then beat the buzzer with a layup after he stole the ball to make it 23-17 at the half.
TIGER SENIOR ZACHARY Dunn and Vergennes junior Josias Salomao battle for a loose ball in the fourth quarter of the Tigers’ win over the Commodores on Tuesday. Below, Tiger forward Tyler Buxton shows the Vergennes defense a clean pair of heels to score two of his 14 points in the third quarter.
Independent photos/Steve James
In the second half the Tigers repeatedly threatened to pull away, and the Commodores kept reeling them back in. Lokatys broke loose for two threes and a layup nicely set up by Cadoret in the first four minutes of the third period, and the lead was 31-24.
Palmer (eight points in the period) then went to work, hitting a short jumper and then stealing the ball and cruising in for a layup to cut the lead to 31-28 at 3:35. The Tigers responded by outscoring VUHS the rest of the period, 9-6, to lead by 40-34 after three periods. Beatty scored four in that stretch, Buxton converted a three-point play, and Lokatys floated in a runner.
When Buxton sank a three to open the fourth period, the lead was nine. But four points from Jackson and a three from junior Josias Salomao offset only by a Beatty bucket sliced the lead to 45-41.
The Tigers pushed the lead to seven three times, finally at 2:03, when Buxton hit a three to make it 53-46.
Palmer and Jackson supplied answers the first two times, and Palmer did again with a minute to go and the score still 53-46. Palmer drove and scored, drawing a foul at 1:02. He missed the free throw, but bolted in, snared the miss and laid it in to make it 53-50.
In the final minute, Dunn and Cadoret each hit a free throw, and the lead was five. With 10 seconds left, Scott (eight points) swished a three from the left wing, and it was 55-53. VUHS fouled Cadoret with five seconds to go. He made the first, but missed the second. The Commodores, rebounded, but could only try a half-court heave that missed at the buzzer.
The Commodores’ work on the boards helped keep them in the game. Counting team rebounds, VUHS earned a 34-29 advantage despite the Tigers’ 11-6 first-quarter edge. Jackson and McGee offered support for Palmer on the boards.
For MUHS, Beatty hauled down 13 rebounds, followed by Cadoret (five) and Buxton (four).  
MIDDLEBURY JUNIOR FORWARD Tyler Buxton passes around the Commodores’ Nathan Bourgeois in the third quarter of the visitors’ narrow victory over their county rivals in Vergennes on Tuesday.
Independent photo/Steve James
Howe’s Tigers will host Milton (9-3) in a Lake Division showdown on Friday at 7 p.m., when they will hope to have sophomore point guard Gabe Dunn, who was out with an illness on Tuesday, back in the lineup. In Tuesday’s game Howe praised the team’s seniors for leading the way.
“The older guys who need to lead the team, they did,” he said.
The Tigers (14 turnovers) took better care of the ball than the Commodores (20), and Carter praised both teams’ defensive efforts. 
“Their zone affected us late in the game and caused a few turnovers. And hopefully we can come back next time and be a little more prepared for that,” Carter said. “Defensively I thought we locked into our assignments, and guys were hustling really hard.”
Carter said Tuesday’s game should give the Commodores confidence.
“I think this is a game we can build on and try to learn from. Being in late-game situations, you can’t learn that in practice. And hopefully our guys got some experience tonight and can learn and grow in those moments,” Carter said. “But I thought overall we rose to the challenge and played really well.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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