Tiger boys’ basketball bounces back to top Eagles
BRISTOL — On Feb. 23 the Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team struggled offensively in a 58-44 home loss to Mount Abraham.
Three days later — this past Friday — the Tigers scored 20 points more at Mount Abe in a hard-fought, 64-59 victory over those same Eagles.
The secret? MUHS Coach John Howe said there was better team chemistry, and on Friday the Tigers moved the ball better and finished with assists on about half of their 23 buckets.
As they snapped a three-game skid and moved to 2-3, Howe was also pleased the Tigers showed good effort, had fun playing, and didn’t hang their heads when they made mistakes or the Eagles went on runs.
“This was a win we really needed going forward,” Howe said. “We had a great chemistry this evening. It was a big key, finding that chemistry during the game.”
Howe also praised the Eagles, who fought back every time the Tigers seemed about to take control.
“That’s two great games Mount Abe has played in a row, and without a doubt they made it hard for us. (Coach) Martin (Clark) is doing a great job with those guys, and they’ve got some great shooters and great players,” Howe said.
Clark said both teams played well.
“It was a good game overall. Both teams moved the ball offensively and played tough defense,” he said.
Clark, whose team also stood at 2-3 at the end of the week, acknowledged he would have been happy to know before Tuesday’s game his team would split the two games with the Tigers.
“Yeah,” he said. “But now I’m disappointed.”
Both coaches agreed that foul trouble was a factor. The officials called a fair game. Tiger senior guard Karic Riche picked up four fouls before halftime, but avoided his fifth foul and finished with a game-high 21 points, including hitting five of seven from the foul line in the final 1:02 to help ice the win.
Meanwhile, Eagle senior forward Quincy Cook, whose 16 points had sparked his team on Tuesday, saw limited time due to foul trouble and fouled out with just four points.
“The boys played hard,” Clark said. “It was hard for them to keep a good rhythm tonight because of the foul trouble. It was called tight. (The Tigers) survived the foul trouble, and we didn’t. We have to learn from it and move on.”
The Eagles took a quick early lead the same way they scored big on Tuesday — penetration and transition points. But the Tigers dug in and defended the interior better the rest of the way.
“We had talked about that, closing that gap, because we had been guilty of letting that happen,” Howe said. “That was a matter of a little bit better communication on screens and switches.”
And Tiger leading scorer Max Alberts, a sophomore who was held to five points in the previous game, tossed in eight of his 19 points in the first quarter on Friday as the Tigers took the lead after one period, 18-14. He and Riche combined for all the points in a 10-0 late-quarter run.
But four Eagles scored in a 7-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters and they led, 19-18 early in the second. The teams traded the lead until two free throws by MUHS senior guard Gabe Dunn at 3:19 made it 27-25, Tigers. They never trailed again, although it remained tight: It was 31-30 at the half when Eagle senior forward Koby LaRose drove for two of his team-high 15 points.
The Tigers quickly pushed the lead to four early in the second half on drives by Riche and Alberts, but the Eagles twice cut the lead to one in the period on buckets by senior swingman Griffin Paradee, who finished with 13 points.
But another late layup by Alberts made it 44-40 after three, and hoops by Alberts and Riche to open the fourth pushed the lead to nine.
Again the Eagles answered, with work from LaRose and senior guard Brett Sargent and Henry Cogswell (who added nine points) slicing the lead to 51-48 at 5:00. Again Alberts and Riche pushed the lead to seven. Cogswell and Paradee both drove for points, and the Tigers called for time with the lead at 55-52.
Dunn, whose ballhandling was critical against the Eagle press, then made two huge plays. Frist he stole the ball, and then after the Tigers ran a minute off the clock he drove and swished a lefthanded hook in the lane to make it 57-52 at 1:55.
Paradee and Riche each sank two free throws, Riche’s at 1:02, and the Tiger lead was back to five. After a LaRose hoop, Tiger guard Owen Connelly dished to junior Asher Rubright for a layup at 0:40 that made it 61-56.
The Tigers forced a turnover, and the Eagles had to foul. But the Tigers missed both free throws, and Sargent swished a 27-foot three to make it 61-59. Riche hit one free throw at 0:10, and the Eagles had a chance to tie. But Riche stole the ball and hit two late free throws.
And this time it was Howe who could talk about a win that could give his team momentum moving forward.
“Absolutely. I think this is something to build on,” Howe said. “We’ll see what happens in practice next week.”