NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- Leading up to Friday night’s action, the Lenox Millionaires talked all during practice about how they felt that the Drury Blue Devils might be the top team in Division 4 right now. Knowing what they were up against motivated the Millionaires to bring their best game to the court at Bucky Bullett Gymnasium, where Lenox earned a hard-fought 65-54 road victory.
“Coming out and playing well was definitely what we wanted to do,” Lenox head coach Brian Cogswell said. “We got it done. We were fortunate that Scott McGuire was not on the floor in the fourth quarter; I am sure that would have made a big difference for them as well. I thought Drury played well, but we happened to get it done tonight.”
The turning point in the action came very late in the third quarter, when Lenox erupted for a 12-0 run that blew open a tight contest. Luke Patella drained a 3-pointer that put the Millionaires ahead for good, before he next converted a three-point play by sinking his shot despite being fouled and then also converting the free throw. Patella followed that by feeding Andre Collins on an outlet pass for another layup, and Collins stayed hot by scoring another layup before then closing out the quarter by draining an open 3-pointer that gave Lenox a 54-43 advantage.
“That was awesome,” Collins said. “I felt like that was the point in the game where we knew we were going to pull it off. Everyone was working great together. We were just connecting passes and finishing shots, doing the simple things right. That led to the victory. There are always those moments where you are just hitting everything and you know you are not going to miss. That was what it was like then, and the whole team had those moments tonight where everybody was hitting shots. It was great.”
The scoring was very balanced across the Lenox roster. Patella led the way with a game-high 18 points, three rebounds and two steals. Collins added 16 points and three rebounds, while Nick Nicotra contributed 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Averin Paradise supplied nine points and three rebounds, while Jett Steinman had six points and four rebounds.
“All of us came in expecting it to be a close game, and everyone realized that they needed to play their best,” Collins said. “I think we did that very well. We just came out and played probably our best game of the season so far. It is the most fun type of basketball. Everyone on our team picks everyone else up the best we can. This is the best team chemistry of any team that I have ever been on.”
The Blue Devils (2-2) rallied back to cut the deficit in half and make things close again in the fourth. Keegan Vidal hit a free throw, Tim Brazeau and Hunter Sarkis each had an offensive rebound that they converted for a bucket and then Louis Guillotte also hit 1-of-2 free throws to pull Drury within 54-49 with 5:19 remaining.
But the Millionaires swung momentum back with some more big plays. Michael Ward found Paradise open for a 3-pointer and then Nicotra grabbed an offensive board and went back up with it to push things back to a nine-point lead. Collins then drew a charge to turn the ball back over to the Millionaires, and the defense finished strong to keep contesting every Blue Devil shot down the stretch.
“We talk a lot about trying to use our feet a little bit more, to use our hands and feet on defense. So our rotations got pretty good in the zone that we run,” Cogswell said. “When we are forcing teams to take shots that they don’t necessarily like to take, that helps us a little bit. Especially since their bigs guys down below did a great job of rebounding against us tonight.”
Drury certainly had a strong presence in the paint, as both Brazeau and Guillotte controlled the boards and limited second-chance scoring opportunities. Brazeau had 11 points and nine rebounds, while Guillotte added nine points and nine rebounds.
With scoring-leader Scott McGuire’s minutes limited, Drury also benefited from a balanced scoring attack. Hunter Sarkis had 10 points and six rebounds, Ben Moulton had 10 points and McGuire finished with nine points, three assists, two steals and two rebounds.
Drury rode the momentum of two scoring bursts to control much of the opening half of play, as the Blue Devils carried a 35-31 halftime lead. An 8-0 run helped open things up to a 19-10 lead after one quarter of action, and Guillotte converted three straight field goals to again widen the margin late in the second quarter.
“They run a different type of defense, and it really attacks us,” Cogswell said. “When they made their run in the beginning part of the ball game we were a little out of control. We started to slow things down and get a little more of a control, and that was what made things a little bit stronger for us.”
The Blue Devils still had some reason to celebrate, as the team honored former star and 2019 graduate Reece Racette with his formal induction onto the banner of Drury’s 1,000 point scorers on Friday night. The updated banner was unveiled during a brief ceremony just before tipoff, in recognition of the 1,456 career points that Racette amassed during his Blue Devils career.
“This means a lot to me,” Racette said. “It is a good milestone goal for me and I appreciate everybody who was around me that helped to make it happen, all of my coaches, all of my teammates and everybody who made me work the way I did. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. But nothing means more to me than the Western Mass banner and winning our division in 2018, my junior year. That means more to me; my team knows that and my family knows that. It means more to me to get a championship and I would trade all of my points for that.”