GROTON -- What has made the North Middlesex boys' basketball team so difficult to game plan for in the early part of the 2012-13 season is that an opposing coach never knows who to key on. That trademark of teamwork was on display Friday night. Brendan Vargeletis came off the bench to score a game-high 24 points for the Patriots, becoming their fifth different player to lead them in scoring in five games, to key a 54-51 non-league victory over host Groton-Dunstable.
"We are not a team of stars and don't have that one player who can carry us to wins by themselves," said North Middlesex coach Erik Dellasanta, whose team improved to 3-2 on the year. "Tonight, Brendan stepped up for us and was the key for us offensively. But this was another full team effort with every kid who took the floor doing something that helped us win. It is always nice to get a quality road win during the season and to have the entire team apart of it makes it even better."
For Keith Woods and the Crusaders, who fell to 1-5 on the season, it was a step in the right direction. "I thought that we did a good job of controlling the pace of the game and got good shots, but they didn't always fall," said Woods. "We are starting to find a rotation and the execution is getting better. Our effort tonight overall was outstanding; we just didn't make enough plays in the end."
After falling behind 3-1 early on, the Patriots closed the first half on a 14-4 run to grab an early eight-point lead. Francis Phillips got things started with a three-pointer while Vargeletis (four points) and Tyler Thomas (three points) also came up big during the spurt. In the closing seconds of the opening quarter, Caleb Baker knocked down an eight-foot jumper off a Ryan DeLuca feed giving North Middlesex a 15-7 advantage.
With the score 20-15, Groton-Dunstable put together its best stretch of play in the opening half, scoring nine of the next 12 points to regain the edge. Corey Romich knocked down a trey off a Drew Moore look before Matt Conlin connected on consecutive three-pointers to make it 24-23. Romich later set up a Phil Dubay 10-foot jumper that gave the Crusaders a 28-26 lead heading into the intermission.
The key to Groton-Dunstable's 21-point second quarter was their ability to take of the ball. The Crusaders committed just one turnover, got more aggressive going to the basket while also finding the range from behind the arc. On the other side, Vargeletis continued his solid play, scoring six points in the period to keep the Patriots within striking distance.
"I thought the second quarter might have been the best we have played this season," said Woods. "We did a nice job in transition pushing the ball and made excellent passes. Matt came up with 10 points and Corey did a nice job of scoring and distributing which allowed us to hold the lead at the half."
A three-pointer and steal and lay-up from Coleman Hill allowed Groton-Dunstable to extend the advantage to five at 33-28, but North Middlesex answered back with a 14-5 kick to close out the third quarter. Vargeletis went for seven straight points to start things off on a pair of short jumpers and a conventional three-point play while Phillips knocked down three free throws to give the Patriots a 42-38 lead with eight minutes to play.
A Vargeletis lay-up increased the lead to five at 46-41, but the Crusaders responded with six of the next eight points to draw within one. Romich banked in a five-foot jumper. Moore hit a lay-up and Clint DeLong connected on a pair of free throws to make it 48-47 with 3:58 remaining.
Bobby Larsen, who had not scored in the first 28-plus minutes of action came up with a huge three-point play off a Phillips look to extend the advantage back to four, but once again Groton-Dunstable drew within when Moore converted a Conlin pass into a lay-up to make it 52-51 with 39 seconds to go.
On their biggest possession of the night, North Middlesex turned to Larsen again and he delivered. Curling off a screen, Larsen hit a catch-and-shoot jumper from 17-feet out and was fouled. The free throw missed, keeping a three-point game and giving the Crusaders one last chance to tie, but a three-pointer in the closing second was no good as the Patriots held on for the thrilling win.
"During the game, Bobby struggled a little, but he came up huge at the end and showed his ability to be clutch with that jumper," said Dellasanta. "Our point guards Ryan and Tyler did a nice job of moving the ball on offense. Francis came up with some big plays that may not show on the stat sheet. This was a great game to be a part of and to get the win is even sweeter."
In addition to his 24 points, Vargeletis added six rebounds and two steals. Thomas added seven points, five boards and three assists. Phillips contributed six points and six rebounds. Larsen (six boards and four blocked shots) and DeLuca (five rebounds and four assists) chipped in five points each.
"Our post defense was a little lacking today, but I thought we played a clean game on the offensive side of the ball which is good," said Woods. "We got a nice lift from the bench with the Hill brothers and Drew giving us a lot of energy. Corey had a solid overall night and Matt came up big during the second quarter. This is a step in the right direction for us against a quality team."
Romich led Groton-Dunstable with 14 points, four rebounds, nine assists and two steals. Conlin added 11 points and three boards. Coleman Hill finished with eight points and four rebounds while Dubay chipped in six points and four boards.