MIDDLEBURY — Hot shooting sparked the Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team past host Otter Valley this past Saturday, when the Tigers took a 23-point first-half lead on the way to a 79-61 victory.
The 3-1 Tigers ultimately stretched their advantage to 62-30 when senior guard Connor Collins sparked an 8-0 run in the middle of the third period with six of his team-high 19 points, including a dunk after a steal.
MUHS was playing for the first time since their only loss, a disappointing setback on Dec. 18 to Rutland in which starting point guard Mitchell Clarke suffered a sprained ankle.
Collins — who shot nine-for-nine from the floor and added seven assists and four steals — said the Tigers were determined to play better than they did in their 56-38 loss to the Raiders.
“It was really important for us. We really wanted to bounce back, show what we can do after a game like that,” he said. “And I think we managed to do that, at least for most of tonight.”
Collins added that qualifier because to the Otters’ credit, they earned a 25-23 edge on the boards and outscored the Tigers by 25-15 in the fourth quarter.
They did so despite coming into the game off two tough setbacks, an overtime loss at Mount Abraham on the previous Tuesday, and a three-point loss to visiting Springfield two days before.
First-year OV coach Greg Hughes said the Otters knew the Tigers would be their toughest challenge of the week, and they were determined to compete, and they met that goal.
“That was easily the center of our mindset coming into this game,” Hughes said. “That’s one thing about this team, they don’t hang their heads. Right after the game they’re mad they lost. And they should be. But they come ready to work the next day every time … That’s mental toughness. If we can keep that going during the season, we’ll be all right.”
Early on, sophomore forward John Winslow (15 points and a game-high eight rebounds) worked inside for three points. Those points, plus the first two of senior all-star forward Ryan Kelley’s game-high 28 points, offset five points from Collins, and it was 5-5.
But then the Tigers heated up with a 16-4 run. Senior forward David Burt hit twice inside, and senior forward Tyler Provencher sank a three to make it 12-5.
Senior OV guard Thomas Roberts scored on the break on a feed from senior forward Jim Winslow and Kelley hit in the post, but the Tigers completed the surge with a drive by Collins, a Provencher free throw, a move inside and a jumper by senior forward James Pecsok, and a jumper by freshman forward Perry DeLorenzo, and it was 21-9.
Two Kelley free throws cut the lead to 10, but senior guard James Hare drove to beat the buzzer to make it 23-11 after one.
Then the Tigers outscored the Otters, 26-15, in the second quarter to lead at the half, 49-26. They had no answer to the six-foot-four Kelley in the period, however: He worked inside for 11 points, while sophomore Connor Gallipo added four.
But senior MUHS forward Marrott Weekes scored all seven of his points in the quarter, five on the fast break. Pecsok, Provencher and DeLorenzo added three-pointers; Burt converted a three-point play inside; and Collins and Provencher also scored in the lane.
MUHS coach Chris Altemose said he was happy with his team’s attack, including its 70 percent first-half shooting.
“I thought we played our best offensive game of the season. We were shooting well, getting good shots, moving the ball well, getting up the floor well, doing what we want to do,” Altemose said.
But he would have liked to see better work on the boards and effort defensively.
“I was a little disappointed in our defense, though. I thought we weren’t really getting after it like we’re capable of doing,” Altemose said. “When we put the whole game together, we’re a really tough team.”
The Tigers did slow OV down in the third quarter, allowing only hoops by Kelley and Jim Winslow in the first five minutes. By then they led by 32, 62-30, as Collins led the attack with eight more points, four by converting steals and two by dunking after stripping Kelley in the open court. Senior guard James Hare scored three and Provencher added a pair.
OV got three points apiece late in the period from sophomore Derek Bassette and John Winslow, but the Tigers kept scoring to take a 69-36 lead into the final period. Pecsok closed the period with two free throws and a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
The Otters dominated the fourth period with tough defense (they forced five of the Tigers’ 13 turnovers in the quarter) and a combined 20 points from Kelley (11) and John Winslow (nine). Sophomore Emmett Thurston added a three-pointer and Gallipo tossed in a jumper for OV, while DeLorenzo scored seven of the Tigers’ 10 points.
For the Tigers, DeLorenzo scored 14; Pecsok, 13; Provencher, 11; and Burt and Weekes, seven apiece. DeLorenzo led MUHS with five boards, and Provencher added four assists.
Altemose also said sophomore point guard Bobby Ritter played well starting for Clarke, who the team hopes will return sometime in the next two or three weeks.
Without Clarke, he wanted the Tigers to show more patience offensively, and Altemose said that was a plus vs. OV.
“That was a big focus for today. We wanted to play a lot more like a team and move the ball a lot more … Today was a step in the right direction,” he said.
Hughes said despite the setback there were some positives for his Otters, including rebounding and the late surge, which he said has been a trademark so far.
Overall, Hughes said the Otters are improving, and will do so even more if they develop confidence.
“There’s definitely big potential,” he said. “If they just start believing in their ability to score and their ability to defend, it’s going to get so much better.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.