BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A Michel Ndayishimiye off-balance floater with just over 30 seconds left proved to be the difference as Rice rallied to defeat St. Johnsbury 53-51 in the D1 Boys Basketball state title game Sunday afternoon at Patrick Gym. It's Rice's 16th championship in program history and the first since 2015.
Rice found themselves needing to claw their way back into this game after falling behind by as many as nine in the second quarter, but head coach Paul Pecor inserted Mohammend Kanneh into the lineup, which largely offset St. J's noticeable size advantage.
Once they stopped the bleeding on rebounds on both ends of the court, Rice's junior guards shot them back into it. Mo Awayle and Ndayishimiye combined for 37 points, 18 of those coming via the three ball as Rice retook the lead heading into the fourth.
St. Johnsbury got 14 points from Logan Wendell, including a layup with less than a minute to go as the 'Toppers snuck back in front 51-50.
But Ndayishimiye split a pair of defenders and hit the game-winner with 31.8 seconds remaining. St. Johnsbury had a couple chances to inch back in front, but a Kanneh block and a traveling violation in the final ten seconds sealed their fate.
"I was just thinking about all those hours we put in, 8 miles put in, coming into the gym early, that was just in my head when I was shooting those free throws (in the final seconds)," Awayle said. "We had a pep talk, talking about how they beat us last year. That was our motivation."
"I've been with these guys pretty much my whole life since I started playing basketball, and it's just a great feeling to finally win a championship with them," Ndayishimiye added. "We came short the past two years and it just feels so good getting it my junior year."