It might have been Milton coach Jim O’Grady’s birthday, but it was the Vergennes Commodores who came away happy last Wednesday night.
One of the top two teams in Division II jumped all over the Yellowjackets early and cruised the rest of the way to a 30-point victory in Milton, taking the final 79-49. The Commodores remain undefeated on the year with a record of 12-0, while Milton continued to struggle and fell to 3-8.
In its previous game, a 56-32 loss to Enosburg, Milton had considerable trouble with the Hornets’ full-court pressure. O’Grady made that a point of emphasis in preparation for last night’s game against press-heavy Vergennes, but felt as though his team came away with mixed results.
“As far as our press break went, it was about 50-50,” O’Grady said. “We mainly prepared for their zone press, and they came out with a man press tonight.”
Milton opened the scoring in the first quarter when Eric Menard hit a three-pointer off an assist from Derryk O’Grady, but the Yellowjacket lead would be short lived. Taking advantage of Milton turnovers, the Commodores went on a 15-0 run before the Yellowjackets hit their next basket. Sam Noel’s layup cut the lead to 15-5 with 4:05 left in the first, but the rest of the period was all Commodores. They went on a second run, ripping off 18 consecutive points capped by Shep Carter’s layup with 6:00 left in the second to make it 33-5.
Milton began to find some offensive rhythm thanks in part to Derryk O’Grady, who hit a deep three and a pair of free throws late in the quarter to make it 41-15, but the damage was done. Vergennes was well in control at the half, leading 43-17.
“The thing that killed me the most in the first half was that we didn’t rebound and we didn’t hustle,” said Jim O’Grady. “Against a good team like Vergennes you really need to do those two things to have any kind of success. We did that better in the second half, I thought.”
Milton played noticeably better in the second half, indicated by the second-half score that was 36-32 in favor of the Commodores. In the first half the Yellowjackets struggled to get the ball to O’Grady in the post where he was guarded by Vergennes’ Carter, who is generously listed at 5’9″. In the second half O’Grady had more success scoring down low, and when he was double-teamed his teammates did a better job getting open for assists than they had in the first half.
Noel in particular was effective in the third quarter, hitting a three from the left wing and a nice floater off a baseline drive. Junior forward Evan Giard made perhaps the best play of the quarter when he picked Carter’s pocket and took the ball all the way to the hoop, converting the layup and drawing a foul in the process. Milton trailed 60-32 after three, having lost the quarter just 17-15, though O’Grady was quick to point out that the Commodores had stopped pressing and were resting their starters.
“The hardest thing about playing this team is that everyone can shoot and everyone can drive,” he said of the Commodores’ offensive prowess, which was on vivid display Wednesday night. They had no trouble finishing around the basket and the majority of their looks came off of great assists from a driving ballhandler.
“They’re a good team, they’ve all been playing together since the fifth grade,” O’Grady continued.
The fourth quarter was mostly back and forth with free throws after both teams reached the bonus, but the Yellowjackets did close on an 11-9 run to win the final five minutes. Derryk O’Grady had five points during that stretch, and Travis Giard rounded out the scoring for both teams on a layup with just under a minute remaining.
O’Grady led all scorers in the game with 21 points and stands just 64 points away from 1,000 in his career. Menard and Noel added seven each for the Yellowjackets.
Carter led three Commodores in double figures with 17 points.
Next up for the Yellowjackets is a game at Missisquoi (8-4) on Tuesday.
O’Grady said he hopes his team will build off the positive things from this game.
“Altogether I thought we did a nice job,” he said. “We’re in a tough league, but we’re working hard and trying to get better. The kids are getting there.”