Credit Lyndon Institute’s first high school boys basketball state championship to the Vikings’ relentless defense Saturday afternoon at the Barre Auditorium.
Forcing turnovers and shutting down U-32’s inside game with tenacious effort, the second-seeded Vikings swept past the No. 1 Raiders 55-35 in the middle game of the championship tripleheader.
“We talked about ‘help defense,’ being in the passing lanes and trying to control their dribble-drives, so we did that really well,” said LI coach Pat Guckin during the tumult after the victory. “Our team defense was sensational.”
The Vikings’ defense was most devastating in the decisive third quarter. After taking a 26-22 lead to halftime, Lyndon outscored the Raiders 13-4 in the third, piling up steals and sweeping the boards. The Vikings did not relent until the coaches brought in the reserves late in the game.
“We tried to force turnovers in the half-court and I think we did that today with our quick hands and our explosiveness but it’s all about defensive positioning,” Guckin said.
In particular, Lyndon wanted to negate the U-32 tandem of Chris Collins and Ryan Booth.
“The guys followed the game plan and we shut down Booth and we won the game easy,” said Guckin. “(Kyle) Cipollone played great because he’s got to control Collins the whole game and he did a good job for that.”
Collins finished with 10 points and Booth had seven.
“We’re lucky to be big enough to match up against them because they’re a great team,” Guckin said.
Offensively, the Vikings rallied behind Mason Lantz, who had a game high of 19 points, Jay Cobb (10) and Axerre Ntabana (9).
After U-32 took an early 5-4 lead, the Vikings ran off nine straight and closed out the first quarter with a 13-9 lead. The Raiders dashed to an 18-17 edge on two Collins baskets and a steal and drive by Adam Gowans, but Lantz and Cobb sparked another run for the 26-22 halftime lead.
Early in the third, Lantz hit a free throw, a 3-pointer and a basket/free throw combo as LI’s lead stretched to 35-24 before Kyle Graves broke U-32’s drought at 4:13 with an off-balance flip off a drive. From there on, the Vikings kept up the defense and relentlessly pushed the lead upward to the final buzzer.
“It’s too bad but we really just didn’t come to play today,” U-32 coach Dan Gandin said. “To score 35 points in a game of this caliber just doesn’t cut it.
“They played good defense but we just didn’t follow through. We didn’t finish. Give them credit, they did and we did not,” Gandin said. “We also didn’t rebound. We got one-and-done way too many times. We’ve got the ability to rebound and we didn’t do that.
“We didn’t run our offense. We just came down, forced shots. I’m really disappointed with our discipline today. I don’t think we executed the way we could have,” he said.
From the Vikings’ perspective, there was no secret to victory, just hard work on defense.
“We played them twice. It was pretty even,” said Lantz of the regular season split “Our defense stepped up today. We all played team defense. Other teams have a really hard time scoring on us.”
The game closed out 19-5 seasons for both teams.