Christmas may look a bit different for the Gauthier family this year.
“It’s a little different to have two brothers at rival schools in the same league seven miles from each other,” Almont first-year head coach Ross Gauthier said. “It definitely makes it a little different.”
As if the Almont-Imlay City rivalry wasn’t enough, Ross Gauthier and the Almont boys basketball team traveled to Imlay City last night where he coached against his brother, Don Gauthier, in their conference opener. And it sure was an exciting one.
Each team made a 3-pointer in its first possession, foreshadowing the back-and-forth game that would unfold. Almont led 16-15 after the first, but Imlay City took control 27-22 at the half, extending its lead by as many as nine points to start the third.
Almont junior Cole Walton answered to keep the Raiders alive with 5:45 left in the third with back-to-back threes, narrowing the deficit to 33-30. His senior teammate Clay Roszczewski followed up with a basket of his own with 4:30 remaining. It was now 33-32.
Imlay City pulled away on another run, led by senior JD Trout with four of the team’s seven points, putting the Spartans ahead 40-32 with a minute left in the quarter.
“JD can be a difference maker for us,” Don Gauthier said. “He started off a little slow, but the last couple of games he’s played pretty well…I thought he played really well tonight.”
This time it was Roszczewski’s turn to answer with a pair of threes with 5:30 left in the fourth, making the score 43-42 in favor of the Spartans. Junior Marko Radisavljevic then made a free throw to tie it at 43.
“The first half was kind of really slow for me. They were heavily face-guarding me with their tallest kid and that made it kind of tough,” Roszczewski said. “Finally, they switched to zone and we were able to switch offenses, which got a few easy open shots for me.”
With 50 seconds remaining, Roszczewski stole the ball and made a layup, tying the game at 47. Imlay City then missed a shot on its next possession and Almont lost the ball out of bounds. The clock was winding down and the ball was in the hands of Imlay City senior Beau Hund with 10 seconds to go.
He began his attack through the lane and with two seconds left, he laid the ball up and in, barely getting it to roll through the net. His team now led 49-47.
“It was supposed to be a fake handoff but it didn’t work out that way. I just saw the lane and it rolled in my favor,” Hund said. “It was crazy. It’s our biggest rival, the student sections were going at it, and it was so fun to play.”
The Raiders still had 1.2 seconds to try to secure the win, and they did so with a well-designed inbounds play, however, sophomore Matt Evans broke up the pass to prevent any kind of buzzer-beater. The Spartans would win 49-47.
“I thought it was a good play, but I was glad it didn’t work,” Don Gauthier said. “I was proud of Matt Evans. He was the one who turned the ball over to give them the layup and then he made a smart play and made the steal, so I was proud he responded there.”
Neither team brought a roster full of experience to last night’s conference opener, but both coaches said they saw glimpses of their teams’ full potential as they start to gain experience.
“I like our guys. They’re very coachable and they work really hard. They want to get better and they put the work in, we just need experience. We graduated six seniors last year,” Don Gauthier said. “We’re kind of learning on the fly and it’s been different guys stepping up in different games. They’re gritty and they’re going to keep at it.”
The Spartans were led by Hund with 13 points and three steals, while Trout added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and sophomore Zander Nash chipped in with 10 points and five assists.
Roszczewski led the Raiders with 17 points, Radisavljevic added 10, and Walton chipped in with nine.
“Clay’s really our only returner with a lot of varsity experience…Cole Walton had some big shots for us. I thought he did a really good job on Zander [Nash] tonight and frustrating him, that was a huge part of us having a chance to win down the stretch: his defense and the big threes had,” Ross Gauthier said. “Marko’s just tough. He works on his game a lot. He plays hard…confidence comes from hard work and he’s put in a lot of hard work.”
“Every since I was 7 years old, I’ve just been training three or four days a week, attacking the basket and working on my midrange a little bit,” Radisavljevic said. “Every day I try to get crafty."
Both teams will take a break in conference play as Imlay City (3-2) will host New Haven on Dec. 20 and Almont will play Bishop Foley on Dec. 29.
As for the family rivalry, the brothers now have a week to settle their differences before the holidays.
“I’ll probably like him more after I get some sleep tonight because I don’t like him very much right now,” Ross Gauthier joked. “He does a great job. He’s a great coach.”
Hund would have to agree.
"I like our Gauthier better," the Spartan said in response to the Almont student section.
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