BENNINGTON — Mount Anthony’s goal every single time it steps on the court is to run you out of the gym. The Patriots play at a blazing pace, centered on pushing the basketball up the court, quick decision making and attempting as many shots as possible. It resembles that of the new-age brand of basketball, with plenty of 3-pointers mixed with dribble penetration drives to the basket.
In one sense, it’s working – MAU has the highest scoring offense in Division I, averaging 69.5 points per game. The only teams to put up more a night in Vermont are a pair of Division II squads: Spaulding (71.7) and Montpelier (69.8).
Yet the high octane offense has yet to yield a winning record, as MAU sits at 6-8 on the season – currently eighth in D-I. Spaulding (11-0) and Montpellier (9-3) have found more success with their explosive offenses. So what’s working for MAU, and what could use improvements?
How we got hereThe blueprint for MAU’s offensive scheme was formed this offseason. MAU went 5-15 in Hunter Stratton’s first year as coach during the 2021-2022 season. Stratton took a good hard look at what he had for players, and built a game plan that caters to their strengths.
“Going into this year and just in the gym in the offseason, we had a lot of guys that could shoot the ball, and we’re small, too,” Stratton said. “It’s needing to find a way to use what we have to our advantage, and also a way to beat some teams that might have a little more talent than us.”
Thus, Stratton’s adaptation of the “7 seconds or less” offense made famous nearly two decades ago by then Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni was born. Interestingly enough, D’Antoni created that offense during an NBA era that was notoriously slow-paced and centered around the play of big men. Vermont high school basketball, for the most part, offers a similar play style to that early 2000s era of NBA play.
“Our thing is, if we can shoot more shots than the other team – and get more points per possession – than we can beat them,” Stratton said.
MAU averages 74 shots per game, or 2.3 per minute. In a state without a shot clock, that pace is extremely uncommon. The shot selection is nearly a 50-50 split between 2-pointers and threes, with 39 of the former and 35 of the latter.
The key to this type of offense finding success, according to the MAU coach, is having depth.
“We’re pretty deep in a sense where we have a lot of different guys that can do different things and kind of rotate in and out.”
The numbers back up Stratton’s claims; Six Patriots average at least one made triple per game for a team average of 9.9.
Junior starting guard Carter Thompson has benefited the most from Stratton’s scheme, connecting on 2.4 3-pointers a game while averaging a team-high 19.8 points per game.
That’s no surprise to Stratton.
“He was in the gym with me four, five nights a week, and he just got so much better,” the MAU coach said. “I told him, ‘you’re going to be the leading scorer in the state this year.’ He looked at me like I had five heads. I just have so much confidence in him … I think he’s, if not the best, one of the five best players in the state.”
Thompson’s taking his higher usage in stride, focusing on making the best play for his team every time he touches the basketball.
“I’m getting the ball in my hands a lot, just gotta make the right reads,” Thompson said. “I don’t always have to shoot it. My teammates are hitting shots, and we’re just putting it together really good right now.”
His backcourt mate, Shemar Sookdar is another key piece to the equation.
The shifty sophomore is canning just north of two 3-pointers every time he laces them up and is the only other Patriot averaging double-digits points, at exactly 13 per game. He’s also been tasked with being MAU’s main distributor, dishing out more than five assists a night.
Finn McRae, Braeden Billert, Tatum Stratton and Ian White have proven to be additional threats behind the arc, all averaging at least one make per game from downtown.
The next stepStratton didn’t mix words when asked what is holding MAU back at the moment.
“It starts on the defensive end, and really, that’s our weakness right now. Our defense is bad,” he said. “If we can get our defense figured out and get guys in the right positions, then the offense will start to even go and go and go more.”
The Patriots are allowing 73.5 points a night.
They can fall into playing their opponents style of basketball at times, which hurts them.
“We need to hammer what we do,” Stratton said. “I think if we do play our game, we can beat anyone.”
Their game is reaching the 70 point threshold – a magic number for MAU this season. When the Patriots score 70-plus, they’re 5-2. When they don’t reach that number, they’ve only won once and lost six contests.
MAU returns to the court Thursday against Southern Vermont League rival Brattleboro in a crucial game for seeding, as the 7-7 Colonels sit one spot ahead of MAU in Division I as of Monday afternoon. Expect an abundance of points.