NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Drury and Mount Greylock boys' basketball teams were fairly evenly matched last season. The two teams split in the regular season, and both squads advanced all the way to the semifinals in their respective Western Mass. tournaments.
Coming into this season, the one difference between the two teams is the experience of their rosters. The Mounties return four out of its five starters from a year ago, while the Blue Devils were forced to replace five out of the top six players from last year's rotation. That experience showed up on the court at Bucky Bullett Gymnasium on Tuesday night, as Greylock forced Drury into 20 turnovers and used a balanced attack on offense to score a 59-52 win on the road.
It was a solid effort by both teams, both of which are still trying to find its way early on in the year. The Mounties won its second game of the year despite surviving a slow start and early foul trouble by two of its top players; Tyler Picard and Tyrell Thomas. The Blue Devils dropped their first game of the season, but their young squad competed hard until the end despite their top player, Nolan Bird, dealing with flu-like symptoms the entire game.
"Bird was sick," Drury head coach Jack Racette said. "He didn't practice yesterday, and he dealt with some dehydration there in the second half. He got some water and got back out there, but no excuses. They're a good basketball team. They're senior-orientated, and they didn't lose nothing from last year.
"I thought we played hard, though. If we play like that, we'll get to our nine wins."
It was the Devils' hard work that allowed them to open a 9-4 lead early on in the game. Down 4-3, the hosts jumped back on top thanks to two consecutive inside finishes from senior center Cameron Parrino, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury. Senior guard Isaiah Pantoja then hit a runner in the lane, pushing Drury's lead up to five points with both Thomas and Picard on the bench with foul trouble. The Blue Devils' defense also played a role in the fast start, as Greylock was whistled for three charges in the first four minutes of the game.
"We struggled in the first three minutes of the game with both me and Tyrell in foul trouble," Picard said. "Drury is a good team with good starters, so they're going to put up a fight against us. Coach Racette coaches great defense. We struggled, but we regrouped in the second half and came out strong."
Mounties head coach Bob Thistle subbed his two starters back in, and Picard quickly responded by grabbing one of the visitors' six offensive rebounds in the first half and scoring on a putback to break up the Blue Devils' mini run. He was also fouled on the play and knocked down the free throw before fellow senior Ethan Ryan (nine points) sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put Greylock back on top.
Drury led by one point at the end of the first quarter, but the Mounties took control in the second quarter, forcing the hosts into several turnovers and using them to score on a few fastbreak lay-ups. Greylock's full-court pressure wasn't killing the Blue Devils, but it did just enough to make them waste time on the shot clock and make them uncomfortable on the offensive end.
"We're going to run pressure all game," Thistle said. "The primary goal isn't necessarily a turnover, but can we take some ticks off of their clocks and, more importantly, can teams get over and then force up a bad shot. I think that's really the goal of a press and, oh yeah, turnovers are nice, too."
With any inexperienced team, finding a way to not only beat the press but to also score off it is major factor in finding success. Racette said that's one of the most important thing his team needs to discover as it navigates its way through the early part of the season.
"They make the game so chaotic with their pressure," he said. "They 2-1-2 you, and they put Thomas in the middle. It's really just aggressive and going for steals. The first night, we're just not good enough to attack that yet. You have to attack that and get good looks right off of it. We were happy to break it, but they got back into their zone. Then we couldn't get into our zone offense going because they're so long. I thought we could have attacked it a little bit better."
Thomas did struggle with his outside shot on Tuesday night, but he more than made up for it on the defensive end, collecting six steals and one block to go along with six rebounds. He also did chip in 12 points on a night where the Mounties were extremely balanced. Picard added 11 points and eight boards, while fellow seniors Hank Barrett and Brett McCormack helped out with 10 and eight points, respectively.
It was a nice littler run by McCormack early in the second half that helped Greylock take control after the break. The senior forward took advantage of open space on the opposite side of Picard and made his team's first three baskets of the second half to help the Mounties open up a 29-18 lead.
Drury was able to cut the lead down to six points heading into the fourth and was able to chip it all the way down to three points at one point when Bird started showing his fatigue at the foul line. The normally straight-shooting forward went just 3 of 7 from the charity stripe to end the game, while Greylock busted off a 9-0 run to put themselves up 13 points with around two minutes left to play. Barrett hit a key 3-pointer from the left wing during that stretch, a good sign for a player that is slowly working his way back from a broken collarbone suffered during football season.
"There is a lot of guys that contribute on a certain night," Thistle said. "Hank did a great job coming back for us tonight. It's his second game, but he got more minutes tonight. He's working his way out there, but he stepped up and hit two big threes. I also thought Brett McCormack really did a great job on Bird. He's one of the better players in the county, so we put it on Brett tonight to take him on. That's no easy task, and I thought Brett did a great job."
Even though he was clearly slowed because of his health, Bird still managed to finish with a game-high 16 points and nine rebounds. He even threw down a dunk in the final minute of the game, as the hosts extended the contest thanks to pair of treys by junior Tyler Briggs. Thomas went 4 of 6 from the free-throw line down the stretch, however, to lock up the victory for the Mounties.
Greylock next hosts New Lebanon at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. Drury is off until next Thursday, when it hosts Monument Mountain in the first round of the Gene Wein Holiday Tournament at 7:30 p.m.