Lamb’s return more than a homecoming

Anthony Lamb (3) seen here during the 2017 NCAA Tournament, leads Vermont with 15.6 points per game including a career high 32 against Northeastern last Saturday, December 9th. (Photo: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

BY PAUL GOTHAM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — If Anthony Lamb has his way, Saturday’s game will serve as a springboard.

When Lamb and the Vermont Catamounts travel to Rochester to take on the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, the former Greece Athena Trojan will get a chance to play once again in the Blue Cross Arena where he and his former high school teammates had so much post-season success in the past.

The sophomore forward hopes this weekend’s experience leads to success later this season.

“To be able to play in an arena will help us get that type of feel for when we have to play in a bigger arenas later in this season,” Lamb said referring to the potential for playing in venues which host the NCAA Tournament. “This game helps us with that same type of atmosphere and with the open back behind the rim, not the closed off wall setting that we have at (UVM’s) Patrick Gym.”

That’s not to suggest Lamb won’t enjoy the moment in front of friends and family.

“To be able to come back and play at the Blue Cross Arena is something I’m not going to take for granted. It’s an opportunity that not everyone gets to have. I’m really grateful that Vermont was able to put this together for me.

“I’m really excited to see those faces that I haven’t seen in a long time and be able to play in front of them again. It’s been a while.”

Saturday’s contest is the first of three tuneups for Vermont before starting its defense of the America East title. A year ago, Lamb garnered conference Rookie of the Year honors scoring 12.8 points per game and grabbing 5.5 rebounds as the Catamounts finished with an undefeated mark in conference play.

Lamb then earned Most Outstanding Player as UVM won the America East championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

For seventh-year coach John Becker, the success of his leading scorer can’t be measured simply with statistics.

“He’s not afraid of the moment,” Becker said recalling Lamb hitting six straight free throws with Vermont trailing in the closing minutes of the AE Championship game. “Those guys are hard to find.

“You never know until you go to war with a guy how he’s going to be in pressure situations or how he’ll handle adversity and what kind of teammate he’ll be. In all of those things he’s been really, really impressive.”

The process of getting to that point started for Lamb the summer prior to his freshman year when he first arrived on campus. It was not comfortable for him at first.

“I really thought it was all about getting better trying to develop yourself. There’s so much more that goes into a college basketball game. Being able to be connected and to have that chemistry so that when you get on the court you know where everybody’s going to be. You can play and trust each other. That’s a big part of it that not as many people talk about, but it’s probably just as important as you going in the gym and getting shots up.”

During a three-game stretch last November, Lamb played no more 20 minutes in any of those contests. Over four games of conference play during January, he logged less than 13 minutes per outing.

Against Albany in the championship game, he played a season-high 34 minutes. Against Purdue in the first round of the Midwest Regional he saw 31 minutes – with four fouls keeping him from more time.

“First half of his rookie year he was still learning,” Becker stated. “There would be games where he didn’t play much and other games where he played more. By the end of last season, he had completely earned my trust. He was a guy we could go to in big games, and he delivered.”

Lamb has continued that success in 2017-18 while shouldering more responsibility.

Named to the Lou Henson Award Watch List for the best Mid-Major Player in the country, the 6-6 forward ranks 27th in the country per KenPom, taking 34.9 percent of Vermont’s shots all the while connecting on 51 percent (51-100) of those attempts.  His 15.6 points per game leads Vermont as does his 5.8 rebounds. And this come against a schedule which includes three (Bucknell, Kentucky and Marquette) NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago.

“It starts with his work ethic,” Becker noted. “He’s just one of those guys who every day practices hard, plays hard, plays with emotion, plays with passion. He’s really skilled and strong. He cares about winning.”

A two-time Section Five Class A1 Tournament MVP and four-time All Tournament member, Lamb led Greece Athena, under then head coach Jim Johnson, to three straight sectional titles. The Trojans advanced to the 2015 NYSPHSAA Class A title game where they fell to Scotia-Glenville (II), 54-49.

“I’m not surprised that he’s playing well,” Johnson said.  “He’s one of the more driven players I’ve ever coached. He wants to be great. Everybody says that, but he does it with his actions.

“He’s a terrific teammate. He really cares about the other guys on a team. He’ll put the team ahead of him. He wants to win. That’s really, really important to him. He’s a good leader. He really wants what’s best for the team.”

St. Bonaventure (7-2) comes into the game winners of four straight. Reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Week, Jaylen Adams recently returned from injury. The senior point guard averages 18 points and 6.7 assists. He forms one of the best offensive back courts in the country with Matt Mobley who accounts for 19.6 points and 3.3 assists. Courtney Stockard scores 11.3 points and grabs 5.7 rebounds.

St. Bonaventure’s defense ranks sixth in the nation with steals on 13. 4 percent of possessions. Vermont turns the ball over 17.2 percent of the time (70th).

A 4 PM tipoff is scheduled. Tickets can be purchased here or at the box office on Saturday.

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