EAST MONTPELIER — U-32 put the finishing touches on a regular-season sweep over Montpelier on Thursday in a boys basketball clash that could have gone either way.
The final scores from both victories were similar, but in some ways the Raiders’ 55-52 win in the rematch was a walk in the park compared to the first game. On Dec. 20 U-32 played catch-up the whole way before rallying past the Solons, 54-50. The Raiders were down 30-24 in the rematch but never trailed in the fourth quarter.
U-32 was led by Owen Kellington (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Anthony Engelhard (19 points, seven rebounds, five steals). Montpelier’s top scorers were Tyler Ricker (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists) and Leo Riby-Williams (10 points, seven rebounds).
Here are two of the difference-makers from the rivalry game:
CHARGE ITU-32 committed 11 turnovers and Montpelier had eight. A lion’s share of those resulted from charges, as players from both sides sacrificed their bodies to take one for the team. Entering the final minute U-32’s Aiden Hakwins took the biggest charge of the night, negating a potential 1-and-1 foul-shooting opportunity for Cattaneo with U-32 leading 52-48.
“Taking a charge boils down to toughness,” U-32 coach Dan Gauthier said. “And I think we both tried to one-up each other in terms of that toughness factor. I felt both teams played good defense positionally. You have to be aware. And offensively, you don’t want to give them the opportunity to take that charge. You want to be in control and find the open man. And both sides put their bodies on the line tonight, unselfishly trying to give their team that advantage.”
According to Engelhard, the heads-up defensive awareness played a crucial role in the victory. Aside from giving his team extra possessions, the charges fired up the fans and provided a timely boost when the Solons were threatening to reclaim the lead.
“We just needed to be more confident,” Engelhard said. “Every time they had to drive in, we knew that they were going to run into us. And we were just a lot more intelligent than them and just set a charge and then got a turnover. It just gets the crowd hyped.”
FOULS SHOTSU-32 hit six 3-pointers and went 13 of 16 from the foul line. It was a marked improvement from the stripe for the Raiders after their 10-of-20 performance from the stripe at Montpelier. The Solons hit nine 3-pointers and were 4 of 6 from the foul line. Montpelier was 9 of 14 from the line during its early-season loss to U-32.
In addition to hitting nine fewer foul shots than the Raiders on Thursday, the Solons also suffered because Riby-Williams and fellow forward Isaak Donahue picked up their fifth fouls in the fourth quarter.
“When the two bigs fouled out, it was definitely a momentum changer,” Engelhard said. “I feel like we just got more confident with being able to just stay strong with the ball, without them being able to get a fast break and then just being able to charge up and take over.”
U-32 defensive specialist Alec Lemieux picked up his fourth personal foul late in the fourth quarter with his team leading 45-39. Riby-Williams opened the fourth quarter with a long jumper and an uncontested putback, closing the gap to 45-43. It could have been easy for Lemieux to hold back on the defensive end down the stretch, but he did just the opposite. His hard work helped U-32 limit MHS to seven points during the final 4:23, lifting U-32 (16-2) to its fifth straight victory.
“We ask a lot of Alec defensively and tonight we had him on Jonah,” Gauthier said. “And Jonah is very crafty with the basketball and put (Lemieux) in a couple situations where he picked up a foul here and there. But Alec did a good job of staying cool and still defending. Because often when guys pick up multiple fouls, they’ll kind of ease off the gas on the defensive end. And Alec is just not that kind of kid.”