BENNINGTON -- Going into Mount Anthony Union High School's final possession in Wednesday's game against Brattleboro, MAU coach Dan Sleeman told his team that if the play didn't work, make a play on your own.
With the clock under 10 seconds and the drawn-up play busted, Ethan Anderson did just that as he managed to keep his handle in a group of players and come out clean on the opposite side for a layup that gave the Patriots a 49-48 win.
"I kind of got tangled up there and had the ball knocked away from me, but I found an opening," Anderson said. "All I was focusing on was the basket."
The layup capped a furious comeback for MAU, which lost star players Sean Brundage and Tyler Champagne early in the third quarter. With MAU up 31-30 at the time, the Colonels closed out the quarter on a 11-2 run to take a 41-33 edge into the fourth.
But star players or no, the Patriots were determined to get the win on Senior Night at Kates Gym.
"It's huge, that's our season right there, just different guys stepping up at different moments and that's all it was tonight," Anderson, a junior, said.
MAU was aided in the comeback by a poor shooting night from the Colonels, who went 3-for-11 from the charity stripe in the final quarter.
Hao Guo (11 points) and Jason Redden (6 points) each hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to four, then Guo scored on a hard drive to the basket to pull within one possession.
Brattleboro answered with a jumper by Chris McAuliffe off a pass from Roach, but then Justin Burgess scored his only two points of the game on another set of free throws to cut it to 45-43.
Brattleboro had a shot to push the lead to three when Sam Siegel went to the line with the score at 46-45, but he missed the back end of a one-and-one, allowing Alec Little (6 points) to knot the contest at 47-all on a tough one-handed finish in the lane.
Guo fouled Siegel on the next possession, but Siegel could only hit the front-end of the one-and-one, making it 48-47 with 50 seconds left.
MAU turned the ball over on its next possession, and McAuliffe was fouled to stop the clock. The ploy worked, as McAuliffe missed both shots to give MAU the ball back.
While Brattleboro struggled from the line in the fourth, MAU went 8-for-8 in the frame.
"We just came off a couple games where the free throws have been horrendous," Sleeman said. "Those were big shots down the stretch. That was a huge, huge factor."
Cue Anderson's heroics.
"We were trying to get it to Alec Little in the paint," Sleeman said. "It was weird, Ethan split two defenders and ends up with a layup at the end. That was huge, that was a big play. I'm glad that he hit the layup number one, but he had enough game sense when the play broke down [to recognize the opportunity]."
With MAU utilizing a 2-3 zone in the game, both teams struggled in the first half.
After the first, Brattleboro led 13-8 behind nine points from Roach and in the second Guo scored five points and Brundage and Little each had four to cut the deficit to 27-26 going into the locker rooms.
Brattleboro opened the third with a bucket by Conner Elliott-Knaggs, but a corner trey by Brundage and an offensive putback by Champagne gave MAU its second lead of the game at 31-30.
But then Champagne and Brundage collided with each other on an inbounds play, sending both to the trainer's room. Brattleboro capitalized, but the team's cushion going into the fourth wasn't enough.
"We had too many turnovers in the fourth quarter, and we also shot 3-for-11 from the free throw line," said Brattleboro coach Joe Rivers. "We only scored seven points in the fourth. You aren't going to win too many games finishing that way."
The win pushes MAU to 11-8 and helps the team as the playoffs rapidly approach, but Sleeman also noted that the win was big for the team's morale.
"Last year, we lost the last two games of the year. We weren't playing good basketball," Sleeman said. "Regardless of what happens in the next game, I think we can look back on this win today and the way we had to handle all of the different diversity thrown at us."
Guo and Brundage led MAU with 11 points, while Roach had the game-high with 22 for Brattleboro. Redden had six rebounds in the game, with four coming in the fourth all off of missed free throws from Brattleboro. Guo finished with three steals and Anderson added five assists. Roach had nine rebounds and two assists for Brattleboro, which falls to 9-10. MAU finishes the regular season on Friday at Rutland.
Champagne and Brundage will both be out for the game as they undergo tests after their collision. No timetable has been set for their return, although the team is hopeful it will be in time for the playoffs next week.