Fast start pushes Tigers past Commodores
VERGENNES — Full-court pressure in Friday’s first quarter proved decisive as the Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team defeated host Vergennes, 53-36.
The Tigers spotted the Commodores three points before unleashing a press. It forced 10 first-quarter turnovers and sparked a 14-0 run during which MUHS senior swingman Tyler Buxton scored eight points and assisted junior Gabe Dunn’s three-pointer.
That surge spanned 4:30 and ended only when VUHS senior forward Kevin Jackson beat the pressure for a transition hoop at 1:50.
The quarter ended with the Tigers on top, 19-6, after Tiger junior Karic Riche sank his team’s fourth three-pointer of the period at 0:40.
Buxton, who led MUHS with 19 points, said the Tigers’ pre-game strategy was to attack the Commodores full-court, something he added will almost always be part of the plan.
“We knew we were going to have to step up on defense. All of us have been playing against that exact same team for so many years that we know exactly what to do,” Buxton said. “We just have to do that all the time.”
MUHS Coach John Howe’s team improved to 3-1. He was happy with the Tigers’ defensive effort, but less so with their offensive execution — MUHS scored just six points in the second quarter and turned the ball over nine times in the first half.
“The biggest problem was actually we didn’t run our offense once,” Howe said. “Defensively we played a fantastic game.”
VUHS Coach Josh Carter’s Commodores dropped to 0-4 against a tough schedule. He agreed Friday’s first quarter was pivotal.
“We came out pretty flummoxed from the start. Credit to Middlebury. They had a pretty good game plan, and we weren’t able to make the adjustments soon enough,” Carter said.
Truthfully, both teams can just forget the second quarter, during which they combined for 14 turnovers and 11 points. It ended with the Tigers ahead, 25-11.
The Commodores gave their big home crowd something to cheer about in the third period by cutting the Tiger lead to single digits, 30-21, in the first 3:15. Senior forward Ben Curtis sparked the 10-5 surge with two treys, Jackson hit a free throw, and senior swingman Lance Bergmans capped the run with a three
The Tigers answered with an 8-0 run to make it 38-21 — it consisted of two free throws from senior forward Jeffrey Lokatys, a transition hoop from junior center Mason Kauffman, a putback from junior forward Wesley Hirdler, and a strong Buxton move to the basket.
VUHS closed to within 38-26 after three periods, thanks mostly to four late points from senior forward Gage Lalumiere.
And the Commodores continued the run by opening the fourth period with a free throw from Lalumiere and a free throw and a putback from senior guard Josias Salomao. Suddenly it was an eight-point game with 5:20 to go.
“Our guys showed a lot of heart tonight. They didn’t give up,” Carter did. “We fought until the end. Credit to them for doing that. We just didn’t have enough in the tank to make that final push.”
But the Tigers did. Buxton sparked a clinching 7-0 spurt over the next two minutes. He fed Lokatys for a transition hoop, and after senior Tim Goettelmann added a free throw, Buxton hit a baseline jumper and drove for a bucket to make it a safe 45-30 lead with 3:33 remaining.
In the scoring column for MUHS, after Buxton, Lokatys finished with eight points, and Dunn, Riche and Kaufman added five apiece.
Buxton said the team is still working on its offensive sets, but is confident in the Tigers’ abilities to create offense from their defense and to smooth out their offensive execution.
“Our whole team are scorers. As long we do our part on defense we’re going to get buckets on offense,” Buxton said.
Howe said the Tigers will have to improve their set offense to compete with the best in Division II, but he is confident the Tigers will do what it takes to get better.
“In the end if you put in the effort, rewards come. We can fine-tune things like running an offense,” Howe said. “By the time we’re halfway through the season, I think we’ll see what this team is capable of.”
For the Commodores, Curtis led the way with nine points, and Jackson and Lalumiere finished with seven apiece.
Carter said the Commodores need stronger starts and better execution.
“We’re searching for an identity right now as a team,” he said. “Once we figure out how to come out in the first quarter and execute our plays, I think we’re going to come back and be a little more successful.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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