Deffner, Thetford boys will continue title defense at the Aud

  • Eamon Deffner

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 2/29/2020 10:35:30 PM
Modified: 2/29/2020 10:35:27 PM

RANDOLPH — The Thetford Academy boys basketball team is heading to Barre Auditorium for the third straight year after upsetting Randolph, 63-54, in Saturday’s VPA Division III quarterfinals.

Eamon Deffner scored a career-high 20 points and Eli Dunnet added 18 to lead the No. 7 Panthers (12-10) past the No. 2 Galloping Ghosts (14-8).

“It just means that the boys are dedicated and they want to show the best of their abilities at the right time,” said TA coach Jason Gray of the defending D-III champions. “So they played their hearts out, (and) I tried to coach my heart out.”

The Panthers dominated the Capital League matchup early, taking a 33-15 lead into halftime, but they knew the victory was far from wrapped at that point.

“I told them, I said, ‘If you think this game’s over, you might’s well stay (in the locker room),’ ” Gray said as part of a midgame pitch designed to keep his team on top of its game.

The hosts began the third quarter aggressively, racking up a 7-0 run that Dunnet ended with a layup. Alex Emerson’s timely 3-pointer — Thetford’s only one of the night — kept the Panthers up by 13 and the Ghosts temporarily at bay.

The visitors led, 50-30, after three quarters, but Randolph put together a late 9-0 run and came within six points of tying the game during its comeback bid.

“We knew they were going to do something,” Deffner said. “After the first half, I knew they were going to hit a few more shots because they didn’t make a single thing in the first half, it felt like.”

Randolph — which was paced by Fritz Hauser (16 points), Cole Jacques (12) and Levi West (10) — hit all six of its 3-pointers in the second half. The Ghosts also ramped up their full-court pressure en route to outscoring the visitors 24-13 in the fourth quarter.

“Normally, the press isn’t something that hurts us,” Deffner said.

TA was just 8-of-17 from the free-throw line but still managed to escape.

“At the end, we all got flustered a little bit,” said Dunnet. “We were up by a lot, they started hitting a couple of shots, getting a couple steals, got in our head. But I felt like we fought through it.

“We had team huddles. We were talking to each other, telling each other that we just need to waste time.

“We’ve got the lead; we just got to retain it. All the nerves were there, but I mean, it’s playoffs, we’re going to have to overcome that at the Aud.”

Dunnet and Alex Emerson (nine points on Saturday) are the only returning starters from last year’s squad that won it all in Barre as the No. 3 seed.

TA, which got eight points from Jackson Ransom and six from Logan Brinkman against the Ghosts, will face either Peoples Academy or Bellows Falls in Thursday’s semifinal game. Opening tip is set for 8:15 p.m.

Notes: Randolph’s first-round victory over Vergennes marked its first playoff win since 2016. … The Ghosts won a two-point game at TA during the regular season, and the Panthers won at Randolph by 24. … TA enjoyed a six-game win streak early in the season then suffered a five-game slide later on. … Saturday’s game was sold out, according to Randolph athletic director Ben Diller, who said 375 people made for a capacity crowd. Some fans were forced to watch the game on a live feed set up in the adjacent cafeteria.

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