On Sunday, January 22nd Vermont Tech was in Bangor, Maine to take on the #1 ranked team in the most recent USCAA Coaches Poll. the Golden Eagles of Eastern Maine. EM also holds undisputed possession of first place in the YSCC and a 12-1 overall record
The Knights came into Bangor six players short of their first semester roster, when they boasted an 11-1 record. Vermont Tech has been forced to re-tool. A combination issues has caused the team to lose five of their ten player first semester rotation. "We've had to slow things down a bit," said Coach Dyer. "We needed to adopt some defensive strategies that will preserve our legs and avoid foul trouble. In the first semester, depth was our strength. Now we'll have to rely on playing smart and playing together."
The first five minutes of the game was a VTC nightmare. EM barely missed, while the Knights could not make a basket. The Golden Eagles were ready to hold defend their home court, jumping out to a 20-0 lead. Dyer said, "I called a time out at 12-0 and reminded the guys that there was still 37 minutes to play; that we were getting good looks and that the ball would start to fall." Despite the timeout, less than two minutes later the score was 20-0.
To the Knights credit, they never quit. At halftime, the lead was cut to 14, 34-20 even with the Knights shooting just 28% and EM putting up a gawdy 54% from the floor. "We made some defensive adjustments during the first half that worked for us. The guys weren't down. At halftime, I could see that they sincerely felt we could make a run at them. They recognized that it was all about making stops and hitting our open shots."
In the first ten minutes of the second half, the Knights showed they were not going down without a fight. The teams battled each other to a virtual stand-off, and the Knights were only able to shave 1 point off the lead. "When the clock went below the ten minute mark in the second half, our guys knew that we had to make a move. We shifted to man to man and opened up the offense somewhat." Senior Kevin Carr (Westminster, MD) and junior captain Alex Tyrrell (Sydney, Australia) immediately took turns cashing in on scoring opportunities. Carr hit three from beyond the three-point line, while Tyrrell hit a jumper beyond the arc as well as adding a three point play the old fashioned way through a driving lay-up followed by a foul shot. Helping the Knights in theier comeback Carr also hit 7 consecutive free throws, and helped Vermont Tech battle back to within three points with 75 seconds to play. The run prompted EM to call a time out.
"At this point in the game, I thought we had turned a corner. I was looking at five guys that were ready to go the matt for each other. Whatever was to happen in that game, I felt we had experienced something pretty special."
The come from behind upset was not to be, however, as Eastern scored a well earned basket after the time out to go up by five. The Knights called a time out with just under a minute left and set up a play with both two and three point options, but due to excellent defense from the Golden Eagles the ball was turned over and Eastern immediately scored to solidify the game. The Knights were forced to foul and EM knocked down the requisite free throws to finish off Vermon Tech by a final of 67-57.
"I'm disappointed for the guys that we couldn't have had a more positive finish to the game, but I'm so darn proud of them for overcoming that 20-0 start and never losing their will or their poise. This is a tough core of players. Come tournament time, we'll be ready."
Carr finished the game with 25pts and Alex Tyrrell added 14. Eastern Maine was led by All American Thelbert Green who had 17pts amd power forwards John Caputo and Steve Eskau who each each had 14 points.
The Knights fell to 11-9 on the season and stand 5-5 in the YSCC. The next game for the Knights is the start of a four game home stand, against the College of St. Joseph's (VT) on Wednesday, January 25th at 8pm.