BENNINGTON — Coming into Saturday's boys basketball matchup between Mount Anthony and Burlington, the top two teams in the Division-I rankings, the hype was off the charts.
Somehow, through 32 minutes of regulation and two overtimes, the reality was just as good.
Each team hit big shot after big shot until the final seconds of the second overtime when Burlington made its last stop in a thrilling 84-81 victory at a full Kates Gym.
"That was just a great HS basketball game," said Mount Anthony coach Dan Sleeman. "It'll keep them hungry. One thing learned tonight is that we're the real deal."
MAU senior Tyler Champagne said the teams trash talked throughout, but by the end, the teams respected each other for the effort.
"It was a battle all game, we'll see them again I'm sure," said Champagne, who finished with 16 points. "We never hung our heads at any point, we came out with fire and energy."
With 2:50 left in regulation, Mount Anthony's Hunter Davis hit a three from the corner to give the Patriots a 58-49 lead, but Burlington made the first of many comebacks. Burlington's Kevin Garrison made baskets back-to-back around a MAU foul to pull the Seahorses within three at 58-55.
In the final seconds of regulation, Josh Hale hit for three of his game-high 28 points to make it 59-58. On the other end, Matt Anderson hit 1-of-2 from the stripe to give MAU a 61-58 lead. Burlington had the ball last and they made the play, with junior Kujtim Hashani letting fly as the horn went off, banking in a three to send the game to overtime in front of a stunned Kates Gym.
"We knew it would be this battle and we've got kids who have played in big games and big moments," said Burlington coach Matt Johnson. "[Kujtim] made a tough shot."
Afterward, Sleeman said he had to make a quick decision whether to foul and put Burlington at the line to avoid a tying three.
"I didn't want them to make the first, then get a long rebound and win it with a three," Sleeman said. "We defended it as well as could, [Anderson] went up with the shooter, he lays off not to foul and [Hashani] banked it in. That's the breaks of the game."
Given new life, Burlington started out the overtime period strong, with Almir Konjohovac hitting a three from the wing and Kaden Rosamilia stealing the ball and driving for a layup to make it 70-65. Then Jonas Parker, playing with four fouls for the Patriots, hit a layup on a turnaround move and a pair of free throws to pull MAU to 70-69 with 58 seconds left.
Parker led Mount Anthony with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
Hashani made two free throws of his own to give Burlington a three-point lead again.
After a timeout, Tyler Champagne, who had struggled from the line with a chance to seal the game in the first overtime, got the ball in the corner and after a beautiful shot fake, drained a three to tie it with only a few ticks left. MAU's Anderson got a steal and pushed it ahead to Parker, but his three was off and the game went to another overtime.
"I was trying to feed Jonas, but he had a guy on the backside, so I pulled back, the guy went by and I hit the shot," said Champagne, who played every second of the 40-minute game.
"It developed slowly, once he shot it, there was no doubt it was going down," Johnson said. "Then the steal and I hoped we could pressure enough at the end."
In the second overtime, Burlington took the lead again, but Parker, playing with four fouls through most of the fourth quarter and the overtimes, scored six points in the frame, including a layup with 1:15 left to give MAU a 78-77 lead.
"He didn't change [his play] with four fouls, the last time he was in that situation, he looked like he had four fouls, but that didn't happen tonight," Sleeman said. "I was going with my guns, if he fouls out, we'll deal with it."
But, as he had done all night, Hale hit nothing but net with 39 seconds left to regain the lead at 80-78.
After Hale hit two free throws on Burlington's next offensive possession, Champagne dropped home another triple to pull MAU to 82-81 with 6.8 left. Forced to foul, Hale hit two more free throws — Burlington was 17-of-18 from the line — and a 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the front iron as Burlington escaped with its perfect record intact.
"Hale's our guy we want with the ball and that's why," Johnson said. "MAU made a couple nice runs, we look to him to take the shot to get us back in the game or make the play, he does a lot of hustle plays that aren't [on the stats]. It's great to be good but you always have to get better. We know MAU will, there's some good teams out there."
Champagne said that while the loss is bad in the short term, he believes it will help in the long run.
"I think it's a better thing for us, going into playoffs undefeated is a lot of weight on your shoulders and it can be too much," Champagne said. "The loss sucks but we'll come back Wednesday and be fine. Our biggest opponent is us. Deep down, I believe we're the best in the state, and we're looking to keep the family thing going and looking to get better every day."
The Patriots travel to Hoosick Falls on Wednesday for an interstate battle.