NEWPORT–Already 3-0 at home this season, the North Country boys won their fourth game of the year in dramatic fashion on Tuesday evening as they picked up the 70-68 victory over St. Johnsbury on the back of Colton White's game winner in double-overtime.
"It was very, very intense," said White of the game, "We played with a lot of heart. In the beginning our offense wasn't really flowing, so we had to gain some momentum to get it going."
North Country opened the game with a steal and a lay-up by Taylor Prue to get out to the early 2-0 lead, but the winless Hilltoppers were not going to lay down for the Falcons. They went on a 6-0 run to gain control of the quarter. Jason Hatin made it 6-4, but back-to-back threes' by Patrick Lovette and Sam Jones put the Academy up by 8.
The Falcons closed the gap on a pair of buckets by Caleb Prue and three by Devon Martin, and as the horn sounded, it was 16-13 St. Johnsbury.
In the second, neither team could get anything to go early. It would take three minutes and thirty seconds before Hatin was able to put in his second shot of the night to make it a one point game.
The Hilltoppers' Brendan O'shea went 1-2 from the charity stripe to restore the two point lead, but a three from Caleb Prue put North Country ahead for the first time since the games' opening minute.
The teams traded buckets for the rest of the half, and when the North Country cheerleaders hit the floor at the intermission, it was with the boys in green up 23-20.
Hindsight being 20/20, I asked Bonvechio if going into the break, did he see any inkling of what was to come the rest of the way.
"I can't say that I wouldn't have guessed it, but I would never had guessed if it did, it would have been 70-68. When you score twenty points in the first half and nineteen in the fourth quarter, it is just a matter of needing more consistency on both ends of the court."
The Falcons came out styling to start the second half. Tyler Paxman picked a Hilltopper pocket and fed Hatin for the lay-up. They followed it with a CP10 base-line jumper, and were back out in front 24-23.
It would be a game of runs for St. Johnsbury, and in the third quarter it continued. Pat Lovette dumped in a three and Nedim Kapic and Tristen Ross each went 2/2 from the line to put the Academy back out in front 30-24.
Now it was time for North Country to go on a run of their own. It would be the Prue boys teaming up for ten points, eight by Caleb, and two by Taylor, to put the Falcons back out in front 32-30 after twenty-four.
Here is where things got really interesting. While I was expecting it to remain tight the rest of the way, I did not expect the teams to combine for forty fourth quarter points that would leave them both tied at 51 and heading into overtime.
There are three things that stood out in the fourth quarter. Jason Hatin, Sam Jones, and the foul line.
Let's start with Hatin. It was a real coming out game for him as he became a leader and the go to guy throughout most of the quarter for North Country, leading the team with ten points in the frame, including going 2/3 from the line.
"Jason Hatin has so much raw potential. He is so explosively quick for his size and he has these monstrously strong hands, and when he gets a hold of the ball and goes to the hole he is tough to stop," said Bonvechio.
Sam Jones of St. Jay was equally as effective in the fourth, scoring nine points, with a 3/3 free throw performance. Jones was a monster all game long for the Hilltoppers, scoring a game high thirty-three points in the eventual loss.
The third factor was the free throw line.
Every time the Academy seemed to need some points, a whistle would blow and the Falcons would be called for a questionable, and I mean questionable, call.
Taylor Prue and Hatin would both be victimized by this in the fourth, and to be fair St. Jay had some bad calls go against them, but they seemed to be less detrimental when they occurred.
The final two minutes would be as exciting as any fan could hope for.
Hatin and Ross traded foul shots, both going 2/2 from the line. Jones put in a lay-up followed by a Tyler Jenne three to make it 47-46 St. Johnsbury with a minute to go.
Jones struck again getting the bucket and foul for three, Hatin made a hard lay-up, and with a chance to make it a two possession game in the final seconds, Ross went 1-2, leaving the door open for the Falcons.
With the game on the line, North Country went to Mr. Clutch, Caleb Prue.
As the Falcons made their attempt to get the game into OT, Prue maneuvered himself out to the left side of the basket just outside the arch, and fired in the game tying shot with 4.8 seconds left to play in regulation.
In the first extra session, each team scored just six points, and both would have a chance to win the game in the final ten seconds, but would come up short.
First up was the Academy. With 9.5 seconds left, Prue was called for an offensive foul, and Kapic went to the line with a chance to put his team up, and potentially win the game.
He went 0-2, and after grabbing the rebound, the Falcons called time-out.
Caleb Prue was once again called upon to make the big shot, but it was not be, and we were headed to a second OT knotted at 57.
At this point Hatin had fouled out, and Bonvechio went with the combo of White, Jenne, the Prues', and Devon Martin for the final four minutes.
"We knew we had to stop Sam Jones down low, so we were doubling him up much more. Then Hatin went out, so we just played him as best we can," said Taylor Prue about the teams' stagey in OT.
Caleb, Martin, and White each went 2/2 from the line in the second OT, with Jenne going 1-2.
"I thought our composure was great," said White, "Last year we would have quit, but this year we are more than a team, we are a family. We stuck together, we didn't play with our heads down, we kept on fighting."
But, for every free throw or field goal North Country made, St. Johnsbury answered. All of the Hilltoppers scoring in double OT would be by either Jones or O'shea, as the rest of green and white seemed to be tiring.
After Jones knotted the game at 68 with a pair from the line, there was time for one last play, and with Caleb Prue being heavily guarded, somebody else was going to have to step up. White was that somebody, and with the clock ticking down, he found a seam, drove to the basket and made the lay-up with 2.6 left on the clock to give the Falcons the victory.
Said White of the play, "I kept seeing cuts open, but I didn't want to get the ball down there and get it stolen, so I went out to the side, down the base-line, and when I got the ball I saw that it was so I went in and I put it up."
"It was great," said T. Prue on the win, "One of the most exciting games of my career."
North Country had three players hit double digits against the Academy. Caleb Prue topped the list with twenty-one, followed by eighteen for Hatin, and ten for Jenne.
The win puts the Falcons back over .500 at 4-3, and they will look to continue their winning ways as the start their forays into Chittenden County with 7:00 match-up against the Hornets in Essex on Friday.