Vermont Tech defeated long time rival NHTI, 60-52, in Sunday's YSCC Conference Championship Tournament to earn the YSCC's automatic bid to the USCAA National Championship Tournament. The Knights entered the tournament as the #4 seed. NHTI was the #6 seed. To earn a spot in the championship round, NHTI had edged #3 seed UMaine Machias in a down to the wire, last second win; then proceeded to pummel #2 seed College of St. Joseph in the semi-final game. The Knights overcame nemesis #5 seed Central Maine in the opening round, then dominated #1 seed Eastern Maine in the semi-final round.
"This was the most balanced tournament I can ever remember," said Coach John Dyer after the game. "All the coaches agreed that any of the eight teams that qualified for the tournament could win it. Personally, I thought NHTI was on a steady climb upwards since we saw them in January. I believed they would make the finals. Paul Hogan is such a great coach. No matter what hand he is dealt is October, his team is a contender at the end of February. It has been an honor to compete against the NHTI teams over the past nine years."
NHTI features a lightning quick offense that pulls out all the stops in the fast break game; hits the three in transition; and spreads the floor to open up the middle in the half court. Coach Dyer described NHTI this way: "They have incredible shooters. Besfort Syla, Zach Stevens and Jackson Riel can destroy a team from the perimeter. Their inside game is strong with 6'9" Ben Hill and 6'6" Tyler Yeaton. 6'4" Ahntwan Harris is the ideal swing man. He can hurt you inside and out. Next to Kevin Carr, he may be the best in the conference. The bench is deep and strong. NHTI comes at you in waves."
The key to the game was tempo. The Knights needed to slow the Lynx down. The Lynx wanted to speed the game up. VTC won the tempo battle. "We knew that, if the game was going to be in the 80's, NHTI would have the edge, " said Coach Dyer. We wanted a game in the 60's. Who knew we would have a final score in the 50's? This was just an incredible defensive effort."
Junior Josh Lindsey was a defensive stopper. Lindsey grabbed 13 rebounds, blocked 3 shots and scored nine points. Time after time, he and teammates Eko N'Bouke, Jhason Clark and Cody Chamberlin jammed the lane when NHTI tried to get to the rim. Perimeter defenders Kevin Carr, Alex Tyrrell and Lucas Dutil smothered NHTI's s three point shooters. Jhason Clark and Kevin Carr teamed up on Harris and held him to just 13 points.
Dyer was ebullient after the game. "I'm so proud of these guys. Talk about 'playing hard?'—this game defines 'playing hard.' Coach Leazier and I kept saying to each other after the game, 'did we really just hold them to 52 points? Incredible. NHTI, at this point in the season, is a very good team."
Kevin Carr led the Knights in scoring with 26 points. Backcourt mate Alex Tyrrell added 11 points and three assists. Ahntwan Harris and Besfort Syle led NHTI with 13 and 11 points respectively.
The game was close throughout. Vermont Tech opened a seven point lead at the half—the largest lead of the day. After the half, NHTI put on one its patented runs and closed the lead to one. The Knights fought back, possession by possession, to hold the lead. With a minute and a half to play, VTC lead by three points. NHTI attacked on the next possession, but the defense held—forcing NHTI to take a late second shot that missed the mark. The Knights then milked the clock on the next possession, looking for an opening. Finally, near the end of the shot clock, Eko N'Bouke launched a contested jumper from the elbow that hit the mark. Knights led by five. Again VTC stopped NHTI on the next possession. After a tough Josh Lindsey rebound, NHTI fouled guard Alex Tyrrell Tyrrell stepped to the line to shoot a one and one with 35 seconds left on the clock, the Knights holding a 57-52 lead. He sank both ends to put the Knights up by seven. NHTI was unable to get a good shot off in their final possession. Syla was forced to throw up a 30 footer. The Knights rebounded and the celebration began.
"We could all see that Kevin was feeling the emotional toll of facing his last game at VTC before the tournament began. They guys resolved to win the first one for him. I'm touched that they dedicated win #2 for me. We won the last one for each other," added Coach Dyer after the win. "This is just so very special."
Kevin Carr was named the Most Valuable Player at the YSCC Championship Tournament. Carr scored 28 points in the opening round game against Central Maine; 23 points in the lop-sided win against Eastern Maine; and 26 points in the championship finale' against NHTI.
Josh Lindsey was named the Tournament's Most Valuable Defensive Player. Lindsey anchored the Knights' middle defense and led VTC in rebounding. Against NHTI Lindsey played a huge role. He had three blocked shots and influenced several other shots. Along with teammates Eko N'Bouke, Jhason Clark, and Cody Chamberlin, he stopped NHTI's perimeter players from driving into the lane and getting to the rim.
Carr adds this honor to a long list of basketball achievements. At the YSCC Banquet, Carr received the "Player of the Year" award for the second consecutive season. He was voted to the YSCC All Conference team for the third consecutive year. He has won the YSCC and USCAA Player of the Week award on multiple occasions. Currently, Carr leads both the YSCC and the USCAA in scoring with a 22.5 ppg average. He has been named USCAA All American for the past two years and is certain to be named to the All American team for the third time at this year's USCAA banquet.
Coach Dyer was delighted with the awards. "Josh really deserves the defensive award. He played his heart out. He would be the first to say that the award should be parceled out to his "inside the paint" buddies. It was a real war in there in every tournament game. I'm proud of Josh. He really stepped up his game. And what more can be said about Kevin Carr? We've had some great players in this conference, but Kevin is the best ever. He does it all. He led us in scoring each game. More importantly, he expertly controlled tempo, which was so important to our game plans, particularly against EM and NHTI. Kevin shut down CM's best scorer, then did the same to EM's best scorer. Against NHTI he divided his time against Syla and Harris—two incredibly strong players with almost opposite skill sets. Kevin may be the best defensive player in the conference as well as the best offensive player. He never ceases to amaze me."