SOUTH BURLINGTON — Twice this winter the Rice Memorial Green Knights dug themselves double digit deficits on the road, only to roar back for thrilling come from behind wins. Friday night, playing on their home court, they dug too deep of a hole. The visiting St.Johnsbury Acadamy Hilltoppers opened up a 26 point first half lead and went on to beat Rice on Bernie Cieplicki Court 72-54.
With Rice up 9-7 just past the midway mark of the first quarter the Hilltoppers went on a 13-2 run to jump out to a 20-11 lead after the first eight minutes. The Academy in general and junior Nick Guckin in particular went white hot from the three point line.
The assault from beyond the arch continued into the second stanza, with St.J banging home eight treys, five of them from Guckin to build their lead to 26 at 41-15 with just over a minute remaining before halftime.
Rice did respond, scoring the final eight points of the half to trail by 18, 41-23 at the break. The Green Knights’comeback continued into the third quarter with the home team climbing to within 12 at 49-37.
But foul trouble slowed down Rice’s full court pressure defense, and St. Johnsbury regained control, building the lead back past twenty down the stretch before settling for the 18 point win.
Guckin finished with a game high 22 points for the Academy, 19 of those in the first half. Alex Carlisle added 18, and Logan Wendell chipped in 14.
Leo Chaikin led Rice with 18. John Rousseau added 11 and Michel Ndayishimiye contributed 10.
Despite the loss the 17-2 Green Knights will be the top seed when the Vermont Principals Association sets the pairing on Monday for the Division One State tournament. With the win the Academy, now 13-7, took a big step toward locking down the five seed.