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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
The sport most associated with drastic tactical changes because of the rise of analytics is baseball, with books, movies and countless hours of sports radio dedicated to how teams should be constructed, what hitters should be trying to do, and which formerly vaunted statistics are essentially meaningless when studied further.
But basketball has been undergoing a revolution as well, with teams placing more and more of an emphasis on three-point shooting. At some point, coaches started listening to the mathematicians explaining that a team making one third of three-point shots will beat a team shooting anything less than fifty percent from two over the course of a 100 shot game.
Unfortunately for the Walpole Rebels, they found themselves on the wrong end of this game theory equation, when an absurdly hot shooting Milton team went on a tear in the third quarter, en route to a 68-62 Wildcat victory.
Things started out well for the Rebels on the road. In the first half, a couple threes from Drew von Klock, some transition layups from Neil Flynn, and a nice put-back off his own missed jump-shot from Ryan King had the Rebels up, 34-24, at the break. While Milton had the superior athletes, specifically senior captain Earl Tucker, they weren’t hitting their free throws and couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted to press or not.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, Milton came out of their locker room on fire.
Milton started the quarter with a couple steals, but it after Tucker got hot from behind the arc that the game really flipped. Following Tucker hitting three three-pointers in a row, Milton had their first lead at 39-38, and the crowd was going crazy. Walpole responded with a Gianluca Gonser hook shot and some free throws, but threes from Tucker, Quannah Morrison, and Lateef Patrick gave Milton a 52-48 lead when the quarter was over. When asked after the game how the team went from up ten to down four so quickly, coach Oliver Vil pointed out the obvious.
“They went six for seven from three. We were trading baskets, but they were hitting threes and we were hitting twos,” explained the coach.
In the fourth quarter, Milton held a three point lead at 56-53 after a Louie Jennings put-back, with just over five minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, another Tucker three-pointer gave the Wildcats a six point lead, which was cut to four by a Brian Malone jump-shot. After Tucker missed on an alley-oop dunk attempt that would have made the already raucous crowd go insane, Walpole took a timeout down four with 3:38 to go.
The Rebels had a couple defensive breakdowns at some pivotal moments down the stretch, which killed any chances at a comeback. First, Matt Byrnes fouled a jump-shooter with very little time left on the shot clock, only to watch the Milton player make both free throws. Then, the Rebels were beaten by a long baseball pass for an uncontested layup when they tried to employ a full-court press. Milton hit their free throws and walked away with a 68-62 victory.
Analytics are all well and good, but at the end of the day, shooting threes only works when you’ve got someone that can make them. For Milton, this was undoubtedly Earl Tucker, who scored 29 points on the night. A 2020 McDonalds All American nominee for the state of Massachusetts, Coach Vil acknowledged how good he is after the game:
“He’s just a monster. Good luck to him, playing at the next level. He was the one that kind of got them going, hit about five threes himself.”
Now 2-15, coach Vil pointed out the play of junior Jack Connell, who was the Rebels’ high scorer with fourteen points, and sophomore Ryan King as high points on the night. While the team didn’t have a great year, the foundation for future success - they will lose only three seniors to graduation - gives coach Vil hope for next year.
“Jack Connell did a good job. I think Ryan King, a sophomore, also did a pretty good job,” said the coach. “So, the future is looking bright for us. We’re very young, so I’m very excited for our future.”