By Ross Hart
BARRE, Vt. shy; Before Blue Mountain took the floor prior to their Division IV Championship game against Rochester, Bucks assistant coach Greg Page likened their tournament run to decorating a Christmas tree. quot;All that's left,quot; he told the players, quot;is to put the star on top.quot;
Blue Mountain did just that, lighting up the Barre Auditorium with eight first- half 3-pointers enroute to a convincing 76-62 victory over Rochester, earning the Bucks their first title since 1986.
With the two teams having split their two regular season matchups, BMU coach Bill Fitzgerald wanted an up-tempo game and to attack the Rockets' talented big men shy; Dean Pierce and Will Chadwick.
quot;Their inside game hurt us in the other two games,quot; Fitzgerald said prior to the contest. quot;So we want to take the ball to the hole hard. We hope to pound it inside and try and get them (Pierce and Chadwick) in foul trouble.quot;
Unfortunately for Rochester, it didn't play out quite that way, at least at first.
Rockets coach Zeus Lary chose to start the game in a passive 3-2 zone defense, apparently expecting such a strategy from the Bucks. Given a little extra room to operate, Blue Mountain's snipers temporarily abandoned the game plan and immediately made Rochester pay.
Mike Fifield and Scott Blood each connected from behind the arc to stake the Bucks to an early 6-0 lead. The Rockets came back and immediately went to Pierce, but the mobile center struggled early shy; missing some short jumpers that might normally have found the range. After Rochester's Trevor Klein responded with a trey of his own, the Bucks went on another of their trademark runs shy; this one an 8-1 burst shy; led by Blood and Fifield who each hit another 3-pointer. Travis Burroughs found Mike Scott with a nifty interior pass which the senior converted into a layup and the Bucks led 18-8 after one.
quot;They were on fire again,quot; said Lary, who was coaching in his fourth title game in the past six seasons. quot;Our defense left something to be desired but they just shoot so darn well. We fell behind 6-0 but it should have been 6-6. We missed three bunnies in a row and it cost us. A classic case of digging ourselves into a hole and not being able to come back from it.quot;
Pierce finally came out of his funk in the second quarter. The 6quot;4quot; center, who averaged 25 points in the teams' two previous meetings this season, scored 10 of his club's 16 points in the quarter. But it was after his 15-foot turnaround jumper near the 5-minute mark that the game turned in Blue Mountain's favor permanently.
On the next Rocket possession, junior point guard Shawn Burroughs stole an errant pass at halfcourt and drove for a layup. Blood (15 points, 12 rebounds) hit a 5-foot jumper after another steal. Mike Murray drilled an 18-foot jumper from the right baseline and the lead was opened up to 30-16.
After Chadwick hit two free throws for Rochester, Scott then took over for the Bucks.
The senior center, BMU's regular season leading scorer who struggled with his shooting in the first two tournament games, drilled three big 3-pointers in the last three minutes of the period. The last one, with 12 seconds left in the half, gave Blue Mountain a commanding 42-24 halftime bulge.
quot;I think the first night here at the Aud (the semi-final against United Christian Academy) I was a little nervous having never played here in a big game before,quot; said Scott. quot;But tonight I just came out, got comfortable, and just started shooting well.quot;
The Bucks opened the lead to 23 points in the opening minute of the third quarter. But the Rockets were not about to go quietly.
The devastating inside game that concerned Fitzgerald finally materialized. Chadwick (11 points, 15 rebounds), who had a very quiet first half, began to assert himself. The junior forward came alive on the glass at both ends. His 10-foot baseline jumper and rebound basket near the 2-minute mark pulled his team to within 13 at 55-42. Pierce (27 points, 15 rebounds) was still Pierce as he added 10 more points in the quarter including a layup off of an alley oop pass at the horn that trimmed the deficit to 58-48.
Rochester's Levi Clarke (16 points) hit two free throws to open the fourth quarter but the Rockets would get no closer.
The Bucks were able to survive despite hitting only 14 of 28 free throws in the quarter. When both Pierce and Chadwick fouled out near the 2-minute mark, the Bucks were ready to celebrate.
quot;It's great for it to come together now,quot; said Blood. quot;We've never really taken this many outside shots before. Everyone was just so confident after Thursday's game. We just came out firing and it gave us a big boost. We never really looked back from there.quot;
Blue Mountain enjoyed a 43-37 rebounding edge despite the advance billing of their opponents. Other Bucks finishing the game in double figures were Mike Murray and Mike Scott with 17 points apiece. Shawn Burroughs added 10 and Brian Somers had his second consecutive double-digit rebounding game as he finished with 11 caroms.
quot;We really had to control the tempo and we did that,quot; said Fitzgerald. quot;Playing at such a frantic pace was really to our advantage. Blood really sets the tone for us. He had another monster game shy; particularly on the boards. When he plays tough, we're very tough to beat.quot;
The Bucks end their championship season at 17-6 and lose seniors Blood, Fifield, Scott, and Travis Burroughs to graduation.
Fifield 3-0-9; S.Burroughs 4-1-10; Blood 5-3-15; J.Murray 1-1-3; M.Murray 7-3-17; Somers 1-3-5; Scott 5-4-17; Totals 26-15-76
Clarke 6-3-16; Collins 0-2-2; Klein 2-0-6; Pierce 11-4-27; Chadwick 3-5-11; Totals 22-14-62
BMU 18 24 16 18 shy; 76
Rochester 8 16 24 14 shy; 62
3-pointers: BMU shy; Fifield 3, S.Burroughs, Blood 2, Scott 3; R shy; Clarke, Klein 2, Pierce
Fouled out: BMU shy; Fifield; R shy; Klein, Pierce, Chadwick