MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team pulled away from visiting Otter Valley on Dec. 23 in the third quarter to win, 49-32, and even its record at 2-2.
The Otters, who two days earlier had defeated Mount Abraham for their first win of the winter, dropped to 1-3 despite mixing up their defensive looks and holding the Tigers to 16 points in the first half, which ended with MUHS up, 16-11.
But the Tigers shrugged off their first-half woes — including a four-point second quarter in which three starters sat with foul trouble — to open the third period with an 8-0 run and a 19-5 surge in the first 5:30. With a 35-16 lead, the Tigers were not threatened again on the way to the 17-point win.
Junior forward Tyler Provencher started the outburst with a three-point shot, and junior guards Connor Collins and Mitchell Clarke contributed putbacks on the offensive boards, with Collins turning his into a three-point play.
MUHS coach Chris Altemose was happy with the Tigers’ effort after the tough first half.
“We got it going immediately out of the locker room,” he said, adding, “To see them get after it in the third quarter was a nice response, and that was the difference.”
In the first quarter the Tigers forced eight of OV’s 23 turnovers and took a 12-5 lead. But the Otters kept changing their looks on defense from man to zone, and were aggressive enough offensively to create fouls on the Tigers even when they weren’t scoring.
Altemose said OV forward Ryan Kelley defended well inside, and the Otters’ hard work kept the Tigers away from the basket, especially during a second quarter in which OV earned a 6-4 edge on the scoreboard.
“Defensively they were able to keep us out on the perimeter a little bit,” he said. “And they hustle, they scrap.”
Altemose said his bench also defended well, crediting the work of juniors James Hare and James Pecsok and senior Ben Ferris.
Pike Ladago led OV with eight points, Kelley finished with six, and Kevin Lefebvre added four.
Provencher filled up the stat sheet for MUHS with 12 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Collins contributed nine points, four steals and four rebounds, and Clarke finished with eight points, four assists and six rebounds. In all, the Tigers earned a 38-35 edge on the boards and turned the ball over 13 times, 10 fewer than the Otters.
Altemose said in the second half all the Tigers started moving the ball and their feet on offense.
“The guys came out of the locker room and played like they’re capable of playing,” he said.
Critically, they also started to score. Altemose said the Tigers have done many things right so far this winter, including play consistent defense and improve their team rebounding, a critical point given that they are not blessed with size.
The offense will follow, he said.
“I believe it will continue to improve as ... the guys get comfortable and make more shots,” he said. “As that happens, we’ll be hard to guard ... We’re just starting to get stretches where we’re seeing what we’re capable of.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.