Adjustments were the name of the game Friday for the Vermont Catamounts as they struggled to find shooting rhythm on the road to open the season. A packed house at St. Bonaventure was the setting for a non-conference banger between two well-stocked mid-majors. Vermont closed out the 2018-19 season with a flawless run in the conference tournament, winning all three games by an average of more than 22 points. After earning the America East AQ to the tournament, Vermont drew a No. 13 seed and Florida State in the Round of 64, closing its season with a 76-69 loss to the Seminoles. Two points kept the Bonnies from the party, falling to Saint Louis, 55-53, in the A-10 Tournament Final, holding them off the bubble and away from an automatic bid.
Making the Big Dance two of the last three seasons, the Catamounts are primed to stretch another run into March. The program is fortunate to return five of its seven major contributors from a season ago, including NBA prospect Anthony Lamb. The forward backed out of the 2019 NBA Draft to increase his stock for the next go around, providing UVM with a legitimate All-American-caliber weapon for one last ride. Along with fellow senior Everett Duncan, Lamb led the charge to stave off the Bonnies in front of a raucous sea of support, 61-59.
Despite registering a double-double to kick off the year, the lid was on the cup for a strong majority of Lamb’s efforts from the field, only knocking down 25 percent of his 12 pulls. Through an aggressive effort to create opportunities, Lamb drew plenty of attention and consistently sent himself to the charity stripe. From the line, he cleaned up for the Cats by banking 9-of-10 attempts. Lamb’s presence was felt all over the court with the future pro baller crashing the glass to clean up 10 rebounds across 31 minutes on the floor.
When Lamb and company were fruitless from deep – the team went 3-of-20, Lamb with zero – head coach John Becker pulled his troops together and came up with a new attack. Vermont set the tempo early but lost traction through the back half of the first frame, eventually exchanging a seven-point lead for a six-point deficit. Distance wasn’t friendly to UVM, so it got dirty inside and took on the wrestling match. Quick decision making by the Catamounts forced St. Bonaventure to pay for mistakes, earning points on 11 turnovers. That same prowess earned Vermont 16 fast-break points. The team is not going to wait but also exhibits excellent awareness when taking the air out of the game through milking the clock where it could.
There was no doubt that the contest with the Bonnies was going to be run and gun, the two have a record of physical track meets. Since St. Bonaventure already had a loss on its record to Ohio, it was going to be an even taller order to click early and trust the process. But, Vermont held strong and closed out with purpose. Leveling out a series of lead changes, UVM kept a six-point cushion for most of the final stretch. The only lapse occurred so late for the final St. Bonaventure attempts that the two-point difference in the final didn’t reflect the confidence and comfort we got from the visitors.
Becker’s veteran group knows each other well and looks fully stocked for the campaign ahead. They’ve got solid gold in Lamb, a kid who stands out as the embodiment of hard work paying off. When he arrived at UVM in 2016, he crafted his right to be called a star, becoming the first freshman to win America East Tournament Most Outstanding Player. When he broke his foot and sat out half of his sophomore season, he returned with a vengeance. Through 32-straight starts as a junior, Lamb led the AE in points per game (21.2) and rebounds (7.8), was second in blocks at 62, and notched six total double-doubles. This kid still hasn’t received the attention he deserves and his Honorable Mention All-America honor shows he still has another title to earn while in college.
Anthony Lamb very well could become the first Catamount to play in the NBA. He learned what’s missing in the offseason through workouts with the league, and he brings it all back to set up one highly-anticipated senior season. Lamb will find his scoring mojo soon enough, and if he can open up his game as a solid three-poiny shooter, don’t expect anything less than hearing his name called the last weekend in June at the Barclay’s Center.
The Catamounts go back to work Sunday, visiting Bucknell at 2 p.m. EST on the Patriot League Network. They will return to Burlington to open the home season on Wednesday with Boston U on Military Appreciation Night at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN+.
Also: UVM released the first episode of a self-produced series it’s calling Green Mountain Statement, giving viewers an inside look at Catamount hoops. We recommend checking out the first installment below.