The Castleton basketball team started the season losing two of its first three, but had an opportunity to silence critics with games against an in-state rival and Christopher Newport University in Virginia. Coming off a heartbreaking 88-87 defeat to Plymouth State, the Spartans hosted Middlebury with more than just bragging rights on the line.
Junior guard Rich Reilly and senior forward Jeremy Jorgensen were Castleton’s leading scorers heading into last Tuesday’s showdown.
The game started off sloppy and both teams had a tough time dealing with the fast-paced tempo. Reilly was quick to make an early statement for the Spartans and scored the team’s first two baskets with short-range jumpers.
Castleton struggled to defend Middlebury’s inside game, as forward Aaron Smith was able to position himself for 13 first-half points. To make things tougher for the Spartans, senior forward Matt Tomaino got into foul trouble while trying to put a body on Smith.
The Spartans trailed 49-40 in the closing minutes of the half, before junior guard Alden Gregory hit a buzzer-beater to cut the deficit to seven points at halftime.
Middlebury continued its strong low-post play in the second half, and had a comfortable lead over the hosts with twelve minutes remaining. Castleton would actually cut the lead to three, but Middlebury answered back with a three pointer and a forced turnover.
While the Spartans had a pair of second half runs, it was not enough to keep Middlebury at bay as they lost 99-90.
Reilly led the Spartans with a game-high 29 points and five assists, and Jorgensen finished with a double-double of 20 points and 16 rebounds. Middlebury’s Smith scored 23 points and had nine boards in a winning effort.
In an unusual road game, Castleton then made the trip last weekend to Virginia to play Christopher Newport University. This was Virginia-native Reilly’s homecoming game, and the host school had more than 900 fans in attendance.
The Spartans, fueled by its guard’s 14 first-half points, gave Christopher Newport a battle in the game’s first twenty minutes. Castleton trailed 33-32 at the half, which put them in position to get a victory on the road.
The Virginia-based school pulled away in the second half and never looked back, as they beat the Spartans 90-68.
Castleton struggled from the foul line, only hitting 50 percent of its free throws for the game, while their opponents shot 82 percent.
Reilly once again had a team-high 22 points in a losing effort for Castleton, and Jorgensen continued to put up double-doubles with 17 points and 11 boards. Freshman forward Zach Briggs, listed at 6-8, started over Tomaino and had a game-high 14 rebounds.
The Castleton men’s basketball team, now at 1-4, opens conference play at Lasell College on Friday, and continues the road trip against Lesley on Saturday.