Thetford 39, Lake Region 28: Boys basketball team gains momentum

Thetford Academy's Mitchell Parkman (12) splits Lake Region defenders Jonathan Piers (11) and Schuyler Butterfield (5) during the Vermont Division III teams' Jan. 19, 2024, game in Thetford, Vt. Parkman and the Panthers won, 39-28, and improved to 11-0 this season. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Thetford Academy's Mitchell Parkman (12) splits Lake Region defenders Jonathan Piers (11) and Schuyler Butterfield (5) during the Vermont Division III teams' Jan. 19, 2024, game in Thetford, Vt. Parkman and the Panthers won, 39-28, and improved to 11-0 this season. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. valley news — tris wykes

Thetford Academy boys basketball coach Jason Gray speaks to his team during a timeout in the Panthers' Jan. 19, 2023, game against Lake Region in Thetford, Vt. The hosts won, 39-28. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Thetford Academy boys basketball coach Jason Gray speaks to his team during a timeout in the Panthers' Jan. 19, 2023, game against Lake Region in Thetford, Vt. The hosts won, 39-28. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Thetford Academy's Liam Murphy drives to the basket against Lake Region on Jan. 19, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. Murphy and the Panthers won the Vermont Division III contest, 39-28. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Thetford Academy's Liam Murphy drives to the basket against Lake Region on Jan. 19, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. Murphy and the Panthers won the Vermont Division III contest, 39-28. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. —Tris Wykes

Thetford Academy's Vance Dillon dribbles past Lake Region's Jonathan Piers during the Vermont Division III teams' Jan. 19, 2024, game in Thetford, Vt. Dillon and the Panthers won, 39-28. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Thetford Academy's Vance Dillon dribbles past Lake Region's Jonathan Piers during the Vermont Division III teams' Jan. 19, 2024, game in Thetford, Vt. Dillon and the Panthers won, 39-28. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Valley News photos — Tris Wykes

Thetford Academy's Xander Oshoniyi leaps for a layup against Lake Region on Jan. 19, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. Oshoniyi and the Panthers won the Vermont Division III game, 39-23. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Thetford Academy's Xander Oshoniyi leaps for a layup against Lake Region on Jan. 19, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. Oshoniyi and the Panthers won the Vermont Division III game, 39-23. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-21-2024 10:30 PM

Modified: 01-23-2024 7:59 AM


THETFORD - Thetford Academy boys basketball coach Jason Gray is an auctioneer by trade. The onetime Panthers star handles farming equipment and estate sales these days and admits he can deliver some of the smooth patter for which his profession is known.

Gray no longer has to sell his team on a playing style necessary for victory, however. TA improved to 11-0 Friday with a 39-28 victory over Lake Region and looks a serious contender for its third Vermont Division III title in six years.

Dogged defense creates turnovers off which the Panthers feast via fast-break points. When operating out of a half-court offense, Thetford’s players whip the ball around the arc, although Gray was unsatisfied Friday.

“Not fast enough,” said the eighth-year coach, despite the rock seemingly spending only split seconds in his player’s hands. “If we hold the ball, it gives the defense a chance to set up and figure out where the next pass is going.”

Forward Mitchell Parkman, Thetford’s lone senior, scored a game-high 11 points and swing man Dempsey McGovern added eight more. Hunter Clay had seven points and Xander Oshoniyi six for the hosts, who missed 41 shots, many from the lane, against a Lake Region zone featuring tall defenders on its back end.

“We’ve got to get more comfortable with the zone because our forte is man to man,” Gray said. “If we can move the ball fast enough, the back side is wide open every time off a reversal.”

TA dressed nine players Friday, with one hurt, so staying out of foul trouble is important. Gray said that’s rarely an issue, but admits it could be against an opponent that manages to consistently work the ball inside. The Panthers, who returned nine players and four starters from last season’s playoff semifinal team, don’t feature a true post player.

“There’s no need to foul because we’re tall and big and strong enough that we should be boxing out and getting the ball off rebounds,” Gray said. “But we still like to try and block shots because that looks cool.

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“Our defense is meant to get baskets off transition. We get a lot of fast-break points and mismatches where our bigger guys drive the lane on smaller guys.”

Parkman, a Chelsea resident who played youth and middle school basketball against many of his current teammates, said his squad long ago realized that five-man defensive intensity wears down opponents and leads to fun on the court’s opposite end.

“No other team wants to play defense like we do,” said Parkman, who’s also a soccer defender and a baseball outfielder for his school. “We might not put up 80 points a game but we’ll hold you to 40 and that’s how we win. Everyone’s helping on defense, just swarming the ball.”

Thetford, which has won nine games by 10 or more points, visits Randolph (7-4) on Wednesday and Montpelier (7-3) two days later.

Notes: Lake Region is 7-5 with two losses to Thetford… This is the Panthers’ second consecutive season with only one senior. They might have had another had 6-foot-1 Boone Fahey not decided to attend Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts after last school year. The East Thetford resident was on the Big Blue’s 2023 football lineup as a linebacker but is not to be found on the school’s current basketball roster… TA baseball coach Phil Chaput, who guided his team to last season’s Division III state title, was one of the JV game’s referees Friday. The Panthers had a last-second shot rim out in 34-33 loss… The varsity Panthers are 55-38 in the playoffs since 1966.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.