MIDDLEBURY — Friday’s boys’ basketball game at Middlebury Union High School had everything one might hope for: atmosphere, a comeback, an outcome not decided until a final shot hit the rim, coaches engaged in a chess match, an outstanding individual performance, teamwork, clutch hoops and free throws, and even solid officiating.
And for the 4-2 Tigers it offered even more: Their biggest win of the young season, 53-50, over a Fair Haven team that came in at 5-1.
As Tiger coach Chris Altemose put it, the experience was enjoyable, but the Tigers’ third straight victory made it even better.
“It was fun. It was nice to get our students here to support us, and Fair Haven brought a nice crowd. And it was an exciting back-and-forth game,” Altemose said. “I feel fortunate to be on the winning side of it.”
Junior forward Tyler Provencher — who scored the Tigers’ final four points, a tip-in on one of his game-high 11 rebounds and then two vital free throws at 0:12 — said the big win was due to the Tigers’ chemistry.
“I think it was we all came together as a team,” said Provencher, who finished with a team-high 15. “We all worked together as a team. Everybody contributed.”
Altemose agreed, particularly with the working-together part. He said the Tigers have dedicated themselves to getting better.
“It means the hard work is paying off,” Altemose said. “I think a win over a quality opponent in a game like this solidifies the message that these guys have bought into.”
On Friday they were up against a Fair Haven team with a similar work ethic, a disciplined unit that also played well. The combined turnover total of 15 — nine for MUHS, six for FHUHS — was unusually low.
Tiger junior ballhandlers Mitchell Clarke (nine points, four rebounds, three assists) and Connor Collins deserved credit in that department.
“Taking care of the ball is always a focus, and I think probably tonight was our best game as far as that,” Altemose said.
Slater guards Levi Ellis (10 points) and Austin Amery also handled the ball well, and the low turnover total came despite the fact that both teams used multiple defenses. In the first quarter alone, FHU’s Bob Prenevost had the Slaters switch between man and a 1-3-1 zone and show full-court pressure.
Meanwhile, Altemose threw everything he had at the Slaters, particularly at senior Robert Coloutti, who scored a game-high 22. Midway through the first period, Altemose assigned a defender to shadow Coloutti and had the rest of the Tigers in a zone, and he changed the zone looks throughout.
“We probably threw four or five (defenses) at them. We went diamond, we went triangle. We went man, we went switching man, we went zone,” Altemose said. “Coloutti is a good player. And he was hot.”
The first-quarter score was 9-8, Slaters, when the Tigers first went into a diamond-and-one and brought junior forward James Pecsok off the bench to harass Coloutti, who already had seven points. The Tigers closed the period with hoops inside by junior forwards David Burt, Provencher and Marrott Weekes, and led 14-9.
Weekes and Provencher’s points both came on putbacks, a key for the Tigers all night — they scored 20 of their 53 points on the offensive glass, including all eight of Weekes’ points. The Tigers outrebounded the Slaters, 38-28.
“The team rebounding piece has been a focus ... and we’re doing well in the last few games with that,” Altemose said.
Weekes contributed three putbacks in the second quarter, but Coloutti shook loose for two late treys to cut the lead to one at the break, 24-23.
The Tigers opened the second half with a 9-1 run, including seven straight points on the break from Burt, senior forward Holden Amory and Provencher, who completed a three-point play at 6:13. After an Amery free throw, Clark hit a jumper to make it 33-24 with three minutes gone.
But the Tigers committed five of their turnovers in the period and added only four more points, while the Slaters got hot. Coloutti hit two threes, Jesse Dodge and Ellis sank one apiece, and Coloutti — the point man in the Slater zone — picked off a pass and converted a steal to cap the quarter and tie the game at 37-37.
Coloutti opened the fourth quarter by driving for two more, and the Slaters had their first lead since the first quarter.
At 7:00, Pecsok sank a trey and the Tigers had the lead again. A minute later, Clarke followed his own miss from the free-throw line and made it 42-39.
Although the Tigers added hoops by Burt (11 points, seven rebounds) and Collins and a three-pointer by Clarke at 3:35, the Slaters cut the lead to one point five times the rest of the way, twice on Ellis buckets, once on a Caulin Mortenson free throw, and twice on Mortenson buckets.
After Mortenson hit a free throw at 1:25 to make it 49-48, a Provencher tip-in at 1:00 made it 51-48. But Mortenson’s strong move inside made it 51-50, and the Slaters called time at 0:13.6.
They then fouled Provencher on the inbounds play, and he swished both free throws at 0:12.
Altemose said he talked during the timeout, and Provencher responded.
“I said in the huddle, ‘Who wants it?’” Altemose said. “And he said he wanted it, and he went up and stuck both.”
Provencher described his thoughts.
“I had everybody tell me it’s just like practice. That’s what I was thinking,” Provencher said. “Just like practice.”
Amery launched a contested three at the buzzer, but it hit the rim and bounced away, leaving the Slaters thinking about the Thursday rematch on their court.
But the Tigers could enjoy a win in front of a noisy crowd in what is often a quiet gym.
“The last couple games there’s been a hockey game or something so there hasn’t been a lot of fans,” Provencher said. “And they were all here, and it felt great.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.