In a matchup of the last two Division II boys basketball champions, it was the most recent champion that celebrated a victory Monday night.
Fair Haven and Mount St. Joseph battled until the very last second, but the defending-champion Slaters took the the snowy trek back home with a 51-50 win to their name.
It was a nice bounceback for Fair Haven who suffered a 33-point defeat to Division I Rutland last Thursday.
“(MSJ) is well-coached. They run a lot of their sets and they’re very athletic,” said Slaters coach Bob Prenevost. “We knew it would be a dogfight. I’m just so proud of our kids. After Rutland, we got hammered pretty well. We worked hard and I’m just happy for them.”
Not much was separating the two D-II powers throughout the game. Through all of the first half, neither team led by more than four points.
The teams combined for just four field goals in the first quarter, but started to find some range in the second. Maddox Traynor hit a 3 to give MSJ its first lead and both teams made short runs from there.
The Slaters went on a 5-0 run, but a 6-0 Mounties run late in the quarter, capped by a Jerimiah Green trey, put MSJ ahead going into the half.
Green had eight of his game-high 21 points in the second, hitting two of the Mounties’ five 3s in the quarter. Traynor hit two and Keegan Chadburn had the other.
MSJ maintained its lead for the early stretch of the third, but Fair Haven grabbed the momentum late with a 6-0 run. Sawyer Ramey and Zack Ellis were key during the third quarter, but sophomore Sam Barber gave the team valuable minutes as well.
Barber had five points in the third and battled to get multiple rebounds from his guard spot.
Something the Slaters lacked in their loss to Rutland was their complementary pieces stepping up. Whether it was Barber, Brandon Eastman or Evan Reed, among a few others, guys outside Fair Haven’s potent guard trio were making a difference Monday night.
Eastman had multiple blocks, Reed hit a crucial late 3 and Barber did a little bit of everything.
“That’s what we have to do. We lost three kids from last year’s team and we have to find some others to step up,” Prenevost said.
Midway through the fourth quarter, a successful and-1 by Kohlby Murray and some nifty ball-handling from Ramey that led to a floater banked in off the glass gave Fair Haven a little bit of breathing room and the Slaters didn’t trail from there.
Fair Haven drained a significant amount of time off the clock with a six-point lead, but MSJ didn’t do down without a fight.
A key offensive rebound and putback from Green with 12.5 seconds left drew a foul and the guard hit his freebie from the line.
With the clock running low, MSJ had one final chance to tie, but a steal under the Fair Haven basket and layup by Ramey effectively sealed the Slater win. Traynor hit a corner 3 after the Ramey bucket as time expired.
“We battled and showed some heart,” said Mounties coach Chris Charbonneau. “There were some things that we need to get better at. I’d rather lose today than lose in the future. There’s some small things that are preventing us from being better.”
Outside of Green’s 21 points, Traynor had 19 for MSJ. Ramey led Fair Haven with 20 points, followed by Ellis with 13 and Murray with eight.
The Slaters did a great job of bottling up MSJ center Jake Williams. A host of guys, among them Eastman, Reed and Kyle James, got the defensive assignment on the big man and held him in check. Williams had eight rebounds, but was held to just one field goal and three points.
“We have to figure out a way to get Jake Williams a little more involved in things. This is a good wake up call for us as a team and us as a coaching staff,” Charbonneau said.
Fair Haven (2-1) is at Mount Anthony on Thursday. MSJ (1-1) is at Otter Valley on Thursday.