Commodore boys’ hoop declaws Tigers
VERGENNES — The host Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team erupted in Tuesday’s second quarter to take charge against Middlebury in what can be fairly called a surprisingly one-sided 55-31 win over the Commodores’ regional rival.
The teams had played a close game at MUHS on Jan. 20 in which the Commodores prevailed with a fourth-quarter rally. And the Tigers had since then won five straight games.
But after a 6-6 first quarter in which both teams struggled to find their footing, the Commodores — and senior swingman Devin Brisson in particular — broke loose in the second quarter, outscoring the Tigers, 27-10. VUHS hit four threes in the period, two by Brisson, and Brisson added three free throws in the period for nine of his game-high 18 points.
The victory, the Commodores’ third straight, moved them to 11-5, in position for a Division III home playoff game and with some hope of moving up to a top-four seed.
Coach Eric LeBeau said improving man-to-man defense has boosted the Commodores. They were coming off a win at Milton in which they limited the Yellowjackets to 14 first-half points.
“My whole philosophy is defense, and the last few games we’ve been focusing on that. I talk to them about not just individual defense, but team defense, the helping, the communicating. That’s really been our focus,” LeBeau said. “And the other day at Milton and today, it’s been really good team defense.”
On Tuesday LeBeau said the game plan was to pressure the Tiger ballhandlers and double down on their post players when they got the ball, citing senior forwards Oakley Francis and Spencer Gebo as doing good work inside in particular.
“That’s something we talked about,” he said. “And I thought if we put a little pressure on their ballhandlers it would make it a little harder for them to get those entry passes.”
MUHS Coach Chris Altemose credited the Commodores, and said the Tigers also lost focus in a tightly called second period in which each team was assessed one technical and one flagrant foul.
“Vergennes played well. We struggled from the get-go, and then we had some mental breakdowns, and we never regrouped,” Altemose said. “Defensively I thought we came out strong. We had intensity. We made it hard for them. But then they were making it hard for us at the other end, and we couldn’t get going. And it was a physical game, and we struggled with that.”
To be clear, it looked like little more than athletes playing hard in that period. Neither of the fouls assessed as flagrant looked too excessive, and players from both teams repeatedly patted each other on the back and helped each other up after diving for loose balls.
“It’s a county rival. These kids have been playing each other since third grade. You compete hard,” Altemose said. “You’re trying to win. But at the same time you respect your opponent, and you have fun playing in these games.”
Altemose said the 6-10 Tigers, who are dueling with Lake Region for the No. 8 seed in D-II, would talk about brushing Tuesday’s game off.
“Tonight was their night. We’ll have a chance to regroup the next couple days and get back at it. There’s still a lot for us to achieve moving forward,” he said.
Tuesday’s first period was nobody’s quarter, at least in part because of both teams’ defensive work, and possibly also because of nerves. The teams combined for 12 points, six apiece, and 12 turnovers, five committed by VUHS.
The ballhandling settled down in the second period, but the Tigers couldn’t get shots to drop, scoring only two points in the first 4:20, a Colton Odell layup set up by Tassilo Luksch, by which time they trailed, 18-8. Brisson and Reese Paquette hit threes, Brisson sank two free throws, Ryan Wright scored in the paint, and Gebo hit a jumper on a feed from Ryker Mosehauer.
The Tigers cut the lead to seven on a free throw and a Cooke Riney hoop in the post, but Brisson sank another three and set up Francis in the post to make it 23-11, prompting Altemose to call a timeout at 2:25.
Then things got wonky: The teams exchanged the flagrant and technical fouls, and the Commodores went on a 10-5 run on a Brisson three, a Gebo three-point play, and four free throws, two from Francis. Despite a bucket inside from Riney and three free throws, two from George Devlin and one from Camden Whitlock, the VUHS lead ballooned to 33-16 at the break.
After Riney converted in the post to open the second half, the Commodores scored the next seven points on two threes from Brisson and a Spencer Grimm free throw at 3:42, and the VUHS lead was 40-18. MUHS came no closer than 16 the rest of the way.
Riney led MUHS with a dozen points and did good work on the boards. Odell, Kyle Stearns and Devlin were next with four points apiece.
Altemose is confident the Tigers will bounce back.
“We have been buying into our roles. We’ve been working hard in practice. Defensively we’ve been holding teams to a low shooting percentage. And we’ve been executing at a pretty good rate to get good shots,” he said. “Tonight we just never got going, and when we did get good shots they didn’t go in.”
After Brisson’s 18 points, Francis was next for VUHS with nine, adding eight rebounds and three blocks. Cyron Basset scored six points, adding four boards; Mosehauer contributed five points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks; Gebo chipped in five points and five boards; and Paquette finished with three points and five assists.
Overall LeBeau said he is pleased with the Commodores.
“They’re good kids. We’re a talented team,” LeBeau said. “If they keep their heads and play good team defense like they did today, I think we’re a good basketball team on the D-III level.”
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