BENNINGTON -- Despite missing a dozen layups, not rebounding the ball well for long stretches and playing without a general sense of urgency for much of Monday's contest against Mt. St. Joseph, the Mount Anthony Union High School boys basketball team rallied to top the Green Wave 58-53 at Kates Gym on Monday night.
"In the first half, we had almost zero energy and we weren't playing our game," said senior Sean Brundage (game-high 23 points). "We didn't say much at halftime. We knew what we had to do. We came out focused and we played extremely hard."
The Patriots were able to hop out to an early 5-0 lead on a drive by Hao Guo (6 points) in the first quarter, but MSJ would respond by outscoring MAU 19-7, sparked by three treys from Nathaniel Kingsley, over the rest of the first to take a 19-12 lead into the second quarter.
In the second, MAU would cut the lead to two at 21-19 on a Alec Little bounce pass off of a steal to Damon Burgess (5 points), but the Green Wave again hit back with a 7-0 run sparked by a Kyle Cassarino trey (21 points) to take a 28-19 lead, and the Green Wave would ride out the second to take a 35-27 lead into the break.
Over the course of the first half, the Patriots were out rebounded 23-18 and gave up nine offensive rebounds which MSJ converted into eight points. On the offensive end, the Patriots missed a half-dozen easy layup or putback opportunities.
"In a game where you miss 12 layups, and several big free throws, I'm a little shocked we were able to pull the game off at the end," said MAU coach Dan Sleeman. "It is nice to get a win in a game where you absolutely do not play well at all."
The momentum of the game started to swing in the third, with MAU coming out and scoring the first five points on a trey from Brundage, one of his seven on the night, and a coast-to-coast drive from Ethan Anderson to cut the lead to 35-32. MSJ would answer with a 7-0 run to take a 42-32 lead on a jumper by Cassarino, but the Patriots responded back with a quick five points by Evan Sparta (9 points), including a steal-and-finish and a trey off a Guo pass, to cut the deficit to 42-37 heading into the fourth.
"Our intensity changed from each quarter," said Justin Burgess. "By the fourth, we were at 100 percent and we wanted to win."
And that intensity showed in the fourth, as the Patriots made a commitment to rebounding and found their shooting touch to take the lead back.
MSJ would hit two buckets early in the fourth, but MAU sandwiched the second one with treys from Brundage and Damon Burgess to cut the lead to 46-43. After an MSJ bucket put the team back up five, Brundage responded with a pump-fake, step back triple to cut the deficit to two, and a pair of free throws from Alec Little (6 points) tied the game up with 6:08 to play.
"Some of [MAU's] shots started going down, momentum shifted, and we had some turnovers that hurt us," MSJ coach Jeff Cassarino said. "We were between trying to slow it down and kill time and push the ball, which is what got us the lead tonight."
Little would hit another free throw to take the lead, but Dante Smith (4 points) tied the game up with a freebie of his own.
The tie would be the last of the game, though, as Brundage hit a triple on one end after Little had rebounded his own miss.
The final three minutes would be a test for MAU, though, as Anderson and Guo both missed their first shots in one-and-one opportunities with MAU leading 54-50. MSJ would cut the lead to 54-53 on a trey from Kyle Cassarino, but after an MSJ turnover Brundage was able to beat the Green Wave press to find Guo all alone under the MAU basket for an easy lay and a 56-53 lead. A pair of free throws from Brundage would seal the contest with 1 second left.
After the poor rebounding effort in the first half, MAU out-rebounded MSJ 22-13 in the second half, including hauling in eight offensive rebounds. Sparta had three of the offensive boards.
"I think a big piece [of the rebounding effort] was Evan Sparta, and that is why I could not take him off the floor in key moments," Sleeman said. "He was a huge part of just playing tough down the stretch."
Justin Burgess, who finished with a game-high 14 rebounds, added that: "We have to hit those rebounds. Today, coach gave us a speech at halftime and that made me a better player in the fourth quarter tonight."
Brundage finished with four boards and three assists in the win, while Sparta hauled in six rebounds. David Perry finished with eight points and nine rebounds for MSJ, while Smith had four assists for the Green Wave.
Mount Anthony moves to 8-4 with the win, while MSJ falls to 6-6. MAU returns to action on Friday at Brattleboro.