CVU downs Rice for its first state boys basketball title

History came knocking on Saturday night at the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gymnasium. For most of three quarters, it looked like Champlain Valley Union High might never open the door.

In fact, until late in the third quarter it looked possible that Rice Memorial might fasten a deadbolt lock on the Redhawks’ hopes of winning their first boys basketball state title.

Photo by Amy VaughanAlex Provost celebrates CVU’s first state boys hoops title. In the fall, as a member of the football team, he celebrated his school’s first football title.
Photo by Amy Vaughan
Alex Provost celebrates CVU’s first state boys hoops title. In the fall, as a member of the football team, he celebrated his school’s first football title.

But with a couple of minutes remaining in the third frame, CVU (22-1) went on a scoring run and began the fourth quarter tied with the Green Knights (18-4).

Late in the last period, CVU was able to take its first significant lead in this back-and-forth contest where the teams swapped the lead nine times. The 100th Division 1 basketball championship in Vermont history wasn’t decided until the waning minutes of the final period of Champlain Valley’s 42-38 victory.

During a century of Vermont boys hoops title matches, CVU had knocked on the championship door only once before, losing in 2017 to Rutland 43-37 in overtime.

For Rice, the state boys basketball title match is familiar territory. In fact, in 1922 Cathedral High, which became Rice Memorial in 1959, won Vermont’s first state title game 28-24 over Hardwick. Since then, Rice has appeared in 35 state title games, winning 17 of them — three of those championships coming in the last three years.

The title game on March 11 was the third time these two teams met this season with Rice dealing CVU its only defeat on Jan. 2 and with the Redhawks triumphant 53-50 on Feb. 25.

The game started with a 3-pointer from Rice’s Drew Bessette, who followed shortly after with another basket to put the Green Knights up 5-0.

Rice seemed seduced by its opening trey and for much of the game seemed to pin its hopes for a win on outside shooting.

Photo by Amy Vaughan. Kyle Eaton defies two defenders to put the ball up.
Photo by Amy Vaughan
Kyle Eaton defies two defenders to put the ball up.

After the game Kyle Eaton said the CVU’s game plan had been to encourage Rice to shoot 3-pointers, but the Redhawks were surprised by how much the Green Knights relied on their outside shooting with minimal encouragement.

The first half was a back-and-forth affair with neither team able to break out for much of a lead.

The teams swapped the lead several times before Eaton hit two free throws to put CVU ahead at 15-14 with just over four minutes left in the second quarter, but Rice came back to take a 24-19 lead into halftime.

The second half began with an Eaton 3-pointer that brought the Redhawks within two at 24-22, before the Green Knights went on a 7-0 run that had the Redhawks behind at 31-22.

Finally, at nine points down, CVU began a run that started with an Alex Provost layup with 2:45 left in the third quarter. The Redhawks’ nine unanswered points pulled the team back to 31-31 tie to begin the final frame.

The fourth quarter began with Tucker Tharpe hitting two foul shots to give CVU its first lead since the second quarter at 33-31.

Rice’s Adam Bilodeau hit a 3-pointer from the low post, and the Knights retook the lead at 34-33 briefly. Shortly after, Provost put CVU back on top at 35-34 for a lead the Redhawks didn’t relinquish, going up 41-34 with little more than a minute left in the game.

CVU outscored Rice in the fourth quarter 11-7, as Green Knights began to look winded and the Redhawks’ deeper bench kept them energized right on into a post-game celebration of their 42-38 victory.

Eaton led all scorers with 19 points and 4 rebounds, but maybe more importantly he hit 10 of 12 free throws.

The title may have been won from the foul line. As a team, CVU hit 16 of 19 free throw attempts. Rice missed the only foul shot it got.

Provost had 9 points and 4 rebounds.

Bilodeau led Rice’s scoring with 11 points and 7 rebounds, followed by Daniel Bogre’s 7 points and 3 rebounds.

For the most part, it was a defensive contest with few offensive highlights. CVU hit just over 30 percent of its shots to Rice’s 29 percent.

Even when his team was down by 9 points late in the third quarter, Eaton said he was comfortable. “I know our team is capable of coming back,” the junior said. “And we did.”

Junior Griffin Veltkamp of Charlotte said he’d felt since the beginning of the season his team was going to win the state title, but seeing his belief in his team realized was “really awesome.”

“It feels good to hang a banner, but this one is special.”