Hoophall: Tilton (N.H.) 71, Vermont Academy 67

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.-- Gone are Nerlens Noel, Georges Niang, Dominique Bull, and Goodluck Okonoboth, but there is still talent on this year’s Tilton team.

It showed Sunday at the Hoophall Classic when the Rams held on to beat Vermont Academy, 71-67, in a NEPSAC AA contest for its second victory in as many days.

Facing a noticeable size disadvantage, Tilton (11-3) was forced to play a game primarily on the perimeter. That made life difficult early on because while it was getting open looks, the shots just weren’t falling.

Wayne Selden, a Kansas commit, was 3-of-9 from the field in the first half for just 7 points. His teammate, Chester Victor, was able to pick up the slack for the team, finishing the half with 11 points, establishing himself as a jump shooting threat and a nice complement to the other Tilton wing players.

Tilton lead 28-27 at the half. Those shots the team was missing early on started to fall in the second, and it started to pull ahead, leading by as much as 15 in the second half.

“I thought it was a very well-played game,” Tilton coach Marcus O’Neil said. “I thought Jesse [Bopp, Vermont Academy coach] had his team very well-prepared for us. We both like to play a similar tempo, up-and-down. I think it makes for a fun game to watch, he’s got some very talented and accomplished players. I thought it was a good game, I’m glad we were able to come out and I thought with the open floor, some of the guys really showed what they can do.”

Midway through the second, Vermont (7-6) started utilizing a fullcourt press, which caught Tilton off-guard. In what started as disciplined ball movement turned into rushed offensive possessions, leading to too long outlet passes and other turnovers.

“We didn’t really adjust to it well,” Selden said. “We didn’t really see it coming. We didn’t have the right positioning. We’re really guard-heavy, so anybody can be anywhere and we were just running around.”

Selden and Victor finished with 24 and 26 points respectively, thanks in large part to their outside shooting. Initially, Vermont was in man-to-man defense, but switched to a 1-3-1 as the game went on, trying to utilize its length to cover as much of the court as possible.

Terance Mann had a strong first half for the Rams, going 4-for-7 from the field, but was 1-for-10 in the second and finished with 11 points. The 6-foot-5 sophomore still has room to grow into his long frame. His perimeter-based game complements Selden and Victor well, giving the team more than one scoring weapon from the outside. When Selden graduates this year, Mann feels he has the potential to fill the big shoes as a focal point of the Tilton offense.

“I think I have the potential to do that,” he said “When I’m rolling, I’m really good at going to the basket and finishing with both hands. I need to work on my shot and my handle, but usually when my shot’s falling, I’m shooting. When he leaves, it’s going to be tough, but I think I can take that role.”

--- With this being such a young Tilton team, Selden knew he had to take on more of a leadership role this season. Last year, playing with the likes of Nerlens Noel and Georges Niang, he could rely on them to be the voices both on and off the court while he played his game. This year, things are different for the Kansas commit.

“Every game is a battle,” he said. “I have to be a leader. We have a young group of guys that have to fight hard, so that’s all I ask for.”

As all great leaders do, they can lead just by example and with their actions as they do with words.

“I tend to be on the hyperactive side,” Victor said. “With Wayne Selden, he’s so serious on and off the court. He’s real calm before a game, but then when we get on the court he’s serious, telling people to go hard. Every day in practice, we break and we say “Go hard.” Playing alongside him, you can’t help but get better.”

--- Sunday was an important game for Chester Victor. Aside from scoring 26 points, the postgraduate senior was able to display his talents on a big stage in front of many college coaches.

He came to Tilton this year after going to school in LaPlace, Louisiana, a small town 10 minutes outside of New Orleans. The 6-foot-1 guard made the jump to Tilton to get more exposure to a higher level of basketball, which he thought the NEPSAC could do for him.

“The recruiting in Louisiana is not as good as it is up here,” he said after the game. “I went four years without getting recruited. I traveled up here with my cousin Lucas and he was supposed to end up coming here, but I think God saw fit for me to come here, so that’s how I ended up at Tilton.”

This year was as good a year as any for him to make the jump to the northeast. Tilton is notorious for having a dominant presence inside, from Alex Oriakhi (now playing at Missouri) to Nerlens Noel (now at Kentucky). This season, the Rams lack depth in the post, and now have to play a more guard-heavy lineup. It did that Sunday, occasionally forcing Wayne Selden to play the power forward position instead of his usual spot at guard and on the wing.

That strategy works because its guards are all capable of scoring off the dribble or shooting from the outside, so they compliment each other’s game well.

“Every year we’ve had things we’ve done well, and not done well,” O’Neil said. “It is a major deficiency in basketball when you don’t have a lot of size. We try to find a way on the court to compensate for that. It is nice to have those guys that can control the paint, block shots, score in the post, so when you don’t have as much of that, you find another way to play. It’s not always easy as a coach to be flexible, but you change what you do according to the personnel. If we don’t do that this year, if I’m too rigid, we’re not going to give ourselves the best chance to be successful.”

With four of last year’s starting five either graduated or transferred, Victor was unsure how that would effect the team and its play coming into the season.

“Last year, I had the privilege of watching them play online and I thought they played slow,” he said. “Once Nerlens left, and Niang, and Dominique Bull, and we found out Goodluck transferred, I wondered if Coach was going to be able to transition from playing slow to playing fast. I found out, coming in the first day, he said that was the only way he was going to play.”