SWANTON – It was a role reversal from a year ago when the Missisquoi and BFA-St. Albans boys basketball teams squared off in their regular-season finale on Friday.
Last season, the Bobwhites pulled off a come-from-behind win in overtime to take a win over their rivals. This year it was the Thunderbirds’ turn to tie the game up in the final 20 seconds and come away with a win in overtime.
Richard Walker hit a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left in regulation to tie the game up and Nick Cutting hit a huge 3-pointer in overtime to put the Thunderbirds up for good on their way to a 62-59 win to close out the regular season.
“This was a great game in a great rivalry matchup,” said Missisquoi coach Jim Bose. “It was a tough matchup tonight, but it was nice to come away with a big win to cap off the regular season.”
Heading into overtime tied 53-53, both teams went back and forth through the first two minutes trading a pair of baskets each.
With the score tied 57-57 and just over a minute in the game, Cutting (11 points) took a pass in the corner and buried the 3 to put the Thunderbirds up 60-57.
BFA got a basket to make it 60-59, but Missisquoi’s defense and a pair of clutch free throws from Walker helped seal the game, as the Bobwhites’ attempt at a buzzer beater was off the mark prompting the Thunderbirds’ student section to storm the court.
“(Bose) told me in the huddle during the timeout that if I get a look at an open 3 to take it,” said Cutting. “It put more pressure on them and changed the flow of the game. It felt good coming out of my hand.”
It was a tough game for the Bobwhites to end the season on, as they saw their nine-game win streak snapped.
They trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half before making a comeback by halftime and trailed by eight midway through the third quarter before making another comeback.
“Missisquoi hit a lot of outside shots early, so we kind of just had to weather the storm,” said BFA coach Matt Toof. “We just had to stay disciplined on the offensive end and we did that by not going away from our game, and that helped us get back in this game a couple of times.
“I’m very impressed with both teams tonight,” he added. “This place was wild and loud, and for young kids to perform the way they did in this environment, that’s impressive stuff.”
It was an impressive ending for the Thunderbirds, who had all five of their starters in foul trouble in the fourth quarter. Cutting, Walker and Michael Wright all received their fourth fouls in the fourth quarter, but they all buckled down on defense and played out the rest of the game without picking up their fifth fouls.
It was no easy task to not pick up the fifth foul with all the BFA players driving to the hoop aggressively throughout the entire game.
“We just had to be more disciplined when we were all playing with foul trouble,” said Cutting. “Just had to keep playing hard, but play smart.”
The Thunderbirds were without Walker and Cutting for a few minutes in the second half before they both returned with over six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Cutting had to sit for a few minutes after picking up his fourth foul and Walker was elbowed in the lip and had to go to the locker room for a bit of time.
The rest of the team stepped up their game in their absence and didn’t let things get away from them with their two starting forwards out.
“Everyone stepped up huge when Richard and me were out,” said Cutting. “It’s no fun being on the bench and having to watch, but everyone did a great job stepping up and holding their own out there.”
The Thunderbirds started the game on a roll scoring 21 points in the first quarter behind some big shots from Riley Wilkin. He scored 12 of his 18 points in the first quarter alone with two 3s and continued to sneak behind the Bobwhites defense and received passes from the other end of the court and converted for easy layups.
Wilkin and Cutting each hit a 3 to start the second quarter to give the Thunderbirds a 27-15 lead.
BFA started to turn the tide from there, as it went on a 12-3 run to finish out the quarter with five different players scoring in that stretch.
Missisquoi started to pull away again in the third quarter with a couple of big shots from Walker and Wright helped extend the lead to 45-39 after three.
The Bobwhites went on a roll to start the fourth outscoring the Thunderbirds 12-4 to start the quarter and take a 51-49 lead, which was their first lead since over two minutes left in the first quarter. The run was fueled by Danny Reyome (20 points), Jens Ulrich-Verderber (15 points) and Will Harvey (14 points), who did a good job driving to the basket.
Walker tied things up with a layup before BFA took the lead again when Verderber was fouled on a shot. He went 1 for 2 from the line and the BFA defense stood its ground on the next possession forcing Missisquoi to foul Brady Green, who also went 1 for 2 at the line to give BFA the 53-51 lead with 29 seconds remaining.
On the Thunderbirds’ next possession, Walker drove to the hoop and was fouled and sunk both his free throws to tie the game up.
Harvey held the ball on the ensuing inbound for BFA trying to hold it for the last shot and his jumper went off the back of the rim and out to set up Missisquoi’s run in overtime to come away with the big win.
“This was a huge win for us. BFA is a great team, and we really wanted this win,” said Cutting. “They beat us in the finale last year, in playoffs last year, and beat us pretty good earlier this season. It’s a great feeling coming away with this win.”
It was a tough loss for BFA to snap its win streak heading into the playoffs in what was a good rivalry game.
The Bobwhites finish the season with a 10-10 record and will pick up the No. 9 seed in the first round of the playoffs next week where they will travel to No. 8 St. Johnsbury.
“We have grown a lot throughout the year, particularly on the defensive end, tracing the ball, getting deflections and seals,” said Toof. “That’s been the difference in the second half of the season and we have to continue to play well on the defensive side of the ball going forward into the playoffs. We will put a gameplan together, stay with what we have been doing and you never know what can happen in the playoffs, and we’ll make the most of it.”
It was a big win for the Thunderbirds in a number of ways with it being a rivalry game and they also clinched the fourth seed in the upcoming playoffs.
The fourth-seed is the highest seed the program has ever been when they are playing in Division I. Up until now, the highest they had gotten is when the team finished as a five-seed in 1986.
“These kids have being a No. 4 seed among many other things they accomplished this season to be proud of,” said Bose. “That’s something no one can take away from them and it’s been a great regular season and now onto the playoffs.”
With the No. 4 seed locked up, the Thunderbirds are lined up to host 13th-seed Burr & Burton when the playoffs start next week.
It was a playoff-like atmosphere with the two rivals facing off against each other on Friday, and Bose is hoping the team can continue to produce under pressure heading into playoffs.
“Tonight is going to be huge for us going forward playing in front of a huge crowd and in a great atmosphere like this,” said Bose. “Hopefully we are a little more relaxed than we were at times tonight, but continue to play well and start the playoffs off strong.”