By ANTHONY LABOR
ST. ALBANS – It was almost déjà vu when the BFA-St. Albans girls basketball team hosted Rice on Friday evening.
The first time the two teams met up, BFA trailed by three points late in the game and hit a triple in the closing seconds to force overtime where it ended up winning.
On Friday, the Comets found themselves down 38-35 in the final 11 seconds and had a chance at the tie on their inbound play. The shot this time didn’t go in, but instead hit off the top of the backboard sealing the Green Knights’ win.
“I think you learn a lot more from a loss than you do in a win, and we learned a lot from the last game against BFA,” said Rice coach Tim Rice. “BFA held their composure in the last game and pulled out the win, and I think our kids grew from that loss and held their composure tonight to pull out another win against a good team.”
With the score tied 26-26 going into the final quarter, the Green Knights did just enough from the free throw line going 5 of 10 and got a big 3-pointer from Lizzy Lyman (nine points) to grab the lead and hold on to it in the end.
The defense of the Green Knights came up big in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, as it never allowed BFA to go on any run in the final eight minutes and played the final inbound well forcing an off-balanced 3-point attempt.
“(Rice) knew what we were trying to do on that final inbound and they did a good job defending it,” said BFA coach Shawn Earl. “Unfortunately, we got ourselves into a hole that we couldn’t get ourselves out of tonight and you have to tip your hat to Rice.”
With the score tied 30-30 midway through the fourth quarter, Rice found just enough to pull away behind a drive by Lisa Sulejmani (14 points) and Lyman’s 3 to give the team the five-point lead.
The Comets got the score to within two points on two different occasions, including two clutch free throws by Hannah Earl (10 points) to make it a 37-35 game with 46 seconds left.
Sulejmani came through with a big free throw in the front end of a one and one to make it a 3-point game and force the Comets to attempt the last second 3, as the Green Knights held on.
“We knew every time we play BFA, it’s always going to be a battle,” said Rice. “The atmosphere was great out there tonight and it was just a great game overall on both sides.”
It was another tight battle between two of the top teams in Division I that saw 10 lead changes throughout the course of the game.
In the end, the Comets couldn’t find the magic they have had in most of these close games all year to pull out another hard fought victory.
“We have been in so many of these tight games all season and have found ways to pull out wins in a lot of them,” said Earl. “Tonight just wasn’t one of those nights. We didn’t execute like we know we are capable of doing and Rice defended really well all game long.”
Rice jumped out to a trio of six-point leads in the second quarter only to see them vanish with solid play from BFA’s Elise Archambault, who scored all seven of her points in the first half to help BFA get out to a 20-18 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Rice made sure BFA didn’t go on any big runs, as the Comets could only muster one run of four points in the second half.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” said Rice. “We traded off runs in the first half and after we got that lead, BFA did a good job of coming back at the end of the half, but we did just enough in the end of the game to squeak out the win.”
The first quarter saw both teams come away with 5-0 runs, as BFA held a slim 8-7 lead at the end of the first eight minutes.
Rice started the second quarter out strong with seven straight points from Sulejmani to put the team up 14-8.
After the teams traded baskets on two occasions, the Comets finished the half on an 8-0 run in the final two and a half minutes with four points from Archambault and four from Kelly Laggis (eight points, nine rebounds) for the two-point lead at the half.
It was a big win for Rice, who improved to 13-3 and jumped over the Comets for the fourth spot in the Division I standings with the regular season starting to wind down.
Rice hopes the team can keep the momentum going and continue to improve through the rest of the regular season with more tough tests coming up with CVU (13-3), South Burlington (9-6) and St. Johnsbury (14-2) on the horizon.
“There is a lot of parity in the league right now, and it’s making the end of the regular season here a lot of fun,” said Rice. “There are a lot of good teams in this league this year, so we just tell the kids to enjoy the process and hopefully we are playing our best basketball down the stretch here and heading into the playoffs. We just need to continue to build going into the final stretch of the regular season and we just have to continue to trust the process and trust and believe in each other.”
It was a rough stretch of games for the Comets over the past week going against three of the top four teams in Division I in a row facing off against St. Johnsbury (43-26 loss), CVU (49-48 win) and Friday’s game against Rice.
It was the second time this season the Comets had to face those three teams in close proximity like that this season and went 3-3 in the six matchups against those three. They beat CVU twice, split the season series with Rice and lost to St. Johnsbury both times.
Earl is happy with how his team has competed in those games against the top teams, but said the team has to continue to get better maintaining their composure in tough situations.
“I’m happy with the girls and the competiveness they have shown throughout the year,” said Earl. “We are just trying to get the mental piece there and trying to keep our composure in close games, which I think we have for the most part this season. Tonight, we didn’t do such a good job of that and rushed some things at times, which hurt us and hopefully we learn from it and move forward.”
The Comets fell to 12-4 after Friday’s loss and finish out the regular season with home games in three of the final four contests. They will host Burlington (Monday), Essex (Thursday) and Spaulding (Feb. 27) before traveling to South Burlington on March 2 for the regular-season finale.
Despite the final four games being against teams in the middle of the pack instead of toward the top of the standings, Earl is hoping the team doesn’t fall into a trap game the rest of the way.
“I would like to think losing tonight is plenty enough to get them charged up and energized for the final games,” said Earl. “In Metro this year, I don’t even look at records because they are misleading. Everyone is competitive, so we have to make sure we bring our game every night and not take anyone lightly, or we will be in trouble. But if we come out and execute like we know we can, we should be in good shape.”