Assistant Sports Editor
BURLINGTON -- The Burr and Burton Academy boys basketball team realizes that the journey the 22-0 team is on has been remarkable.
But it’s not over yet.
Tonight the Bulldogs look to keep the season going as they play Mount Mansfield in a Division I semifinal game at Patrick Gym at the University of Vermont, and the No. 1 Bulldogs enter the contest with as calm a demeanor as one could expect from the top-seeded team.
"I think there is some pressure off of us that we felt going into [the quarterfinals]," said BBA coach Dave Shehadi after the team’s practice on Sunday. "We felt we had to win that game. This season has been a great success, but getting to the final four takes it to a better level of success. Win or lose, we can say we got there."
Do not expect a complacent BBA team, though. Despite avoiding a game with St. Johnsbury Academy after the No. 5 Cougars knocked the No. 4 Hilltoppers out in the quarterfinals 45-44, Shehadi recognizes the dangers that MMU brings to the contest.
"My feeling is, on paper, we probably match up a little better with Mt. Mansfield. That said, we know that they are a quality team. Any team that is left is a quality team. They have high quality wins against all the other powerhouses up there."
While MMU fell to SJA twice in the regular season, the Cougars avenged the losses with the upset at SJA last Friday. Other than the win over SJA, MMU also has wins No. 2 Burlington and No. 3 Rice, the other two teams left in Division I, since the start of February.
"We have a lot of players that have stepped up at different times in different games," said MMU coach Jeff Davis. "We have definitely played fairly competitive, and I think over the long haul our team has gotten progressively better. I think we are sitting here with an opportunity. We feel pretty good about where we are."
Comparing the teams on paper, BBA and MMU match-up evenly against each other.
Both teams rely on depth in the scoring department, with BBA featuring Joey Shehadi (20.7 points per game), Tyeshawn Gadson (12.9), Taylor Muench (10.1) and Conor Harrington (10.6) as its double-digit scorers, while MMU has the trio of Kyle Adams (13), Sean Springer (12.11) and Tinga Adiang (11.56) leading the team in scoring.
Neither team possess a tall frontcourt combo, but Harrington and Adams each provide a bit of an interior presence for their respective sides.
Defensively, both teams are capable of limiting their opponents, as MMU allowed 43 points per game during their three marquee wins this month while BBA has given up only 47 points per game this season.
"They are similar to us, it is a similar team," Shehadi said. "They have six solid players, we may be a little deeper, but their players are all good. They have experience, they have senior leadership. Size wise, the lineups we roll onto the floor are almost identical. Let’s roll the ball out and see what happens."
When the ball does get rolling, Davis said that he wants his team to focus on trying to stymie the 3-point shooting of the Bulldogs.
Shehadi has knocked down 79 treys this season, while Gadson (31), Muench (32) and Harrington (25) also have over 25 made threes and, as a team, the Bulldogs shoot 38 percent from beyond the arc.
"I think the biggest thing we have to do is limit their 3-point opportunities," Davis said. "Shehadi is a bonafide jump shooter. We can’t let him get going. He is so explosive, he is good with one-two dribble moves and pull-ups, and the guys around him are able to hit down shots."
Coach Shehadi hopes that his team’s shooting touch comes with them to Patrick, but his point of emphasis is on the quality of his team’s shots.
"It’s important that we take on-balance, high quality shots," Shehadi said. "Everyone knows what we believe they can do. The kids know what a good shot is and what isn’t. It’s more if you are on balance, what is the quality of the shot."
On the boards, Harrington leads the Bulldogs with 6.7 per game while Shehadi, who plays the point, is averaging 5.6 per contest. For the Cougars, Adiang averages 7 per game while Adams is averaging 5 per contest.
In transition, Davis noted that his team could play an uptempo style, but was wary of the defensive lapses that can come as his team tries to push out on the break. For Shehadi, the bigger court that Patrick presents means that his team can take advantage of its transition game.
"We play fast at times and [the court] makes it tougher for teams that want to pack it in and defend in the half court," Shehadi said. "It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference."
Shehadi also noted that he wanted his team to be aggressive driving to the rim. In the team’s 64-52 win over Mount Anthony in the quarterfinals, Joey Shehadi shot 7-of-11 from the charity stripe, with most of the chances coming after drives to the basket.
"[Joey] gets to the charity stripe a lot. He is a good free throw shooter," coach Shehadi said. "He can cause the other team to get in foul trouble. I would like to see some other guys get to the rim and get to the free throw line a lot more."
Davis, when asked to assess the Bulldogs, praised the contributions of Shehadi but was quick to point out that BBA is far from a one-man team.
"I was really impressed with the Shehadi kid, but it’s not just him," Davis said. "The thing that sticks out most is their team chemistry, you can tell they have played a lot of basketball together. Shehadi is a tough match-up [but] Gadson does a great job getting into the lane. Athletically, he is very tough. They are very well coached, you can see defensively they are very good. They share the ball, they are willing to make the extra passes. They pass the eye test, for sure."
After practice on Sunday, Shehadi said that a lot of the X’s and O’s were going to stay the same for BBA. Instead, he just wanted his team to stay focused on what laid ahead.
"My thing is to keep level heads, support each other, come out with the right energy and focus on defense," Shehadi said. "I really think that’s it. Some programs might come out with a new wrinkle or something, but we are going to try and do what we’ve done all year."
Tuesday’s game will tip at 6 p.m. as the first part of the Division I doubleheader. Tickets will be available at the UVM box office, and are $7 for adults and $4 for students and adults over 65. Tickets will be good for both contests.