On Sunday, the Vineyard boys basketball team suited up for a game against arch rival Nantucket. They wore their traditional uniforms and boarded the ferry as they had for countless away games.

But the destination was to a place they had only seen on television or watched from the stands to see the Celtics play. This time, however, they would be the ones running up and down the famed parquet floor of TD Garden, beneath the 17 championship banners hanging from the rafters, and the ceiling adorned with the retired numbers of legends.

The occasion was the Andrew James Lawson Foundation, Inc. Invitational, a fundraiser for Unified Basketball teams throughout the state, to support projects and scholarships for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Sam Zack looks to score. — Hailey McLaughlin

Nantucket defeated the Vineyard 67-58 but the team knew the game meant more than the final score.

More than 450 Vineyard residents bought tickets to the game. Many fans arrived on buses from Woods Hole eager to watch the team’s first return to TD Garden since its 2013 Division 3 state-semifinals loss to Danvers.

Teams competing at the invitational must each sell 400 tickets as part of the fundraising effort. Head coach Mike Joyce credited his squad with leveraging its social media network and close relationships among family and friends to sell additional tickets even after reaching its goal.

“When you have kids who are really good at a sport and are looking to help a cause without any sort of personal gain, it’s a great indicator of the character of those kids,” Coach Joyce said. “They are helping provide something special for kids who won’t have that same opportunity.”

Coach Mike Joyce and the team keep the energy up. — Hailey McLaughlin

By tip-off, hundreds of Martha’s Vineyard residents had filled the assigned fan section behind the team benches. The excitement was palpable and purple and white T-shirts dotted every row.

“How many times does Martha’s Vineyard get a chance to play in the Boston Garden? It’s exciting,” said Catherine Deese, 80, of Chilmark, who arrived with her niece Tricia Bergeron of Oak Bluffs. “When I was growing up in Oak Bluffs, basketball was the only sport we had. There was no football, no baseball, nothing else, really.”

Ms. Deese said her mother attended every high school basketball game during her childhood in Oak Bluffs, a tradition she keeps alive to this day.

Arielle Faria, player Miles Hayes’s mother, watched her son from the front row. She said she told him to focus more on the moment than the outcome.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for Miles and all his teammates,” Ms. Faria said. “Regardless of what happens, we’re all so proud of them.”

In addition to playing on the MVRHS basketball team, many players help out with the Vineyard’s Unified Basketball team, leading practices twice a week, coordinating drills and working on shooting techniques. Josh Lake joined Unified Basketball in 2022, he said, and the next year recruited Sam Zack and Miles Hayes to join him.

Landon Lepine goes for the rebound. — Hailey McLaughlin

“I had never done anything like that before,” Zack said. “But it has become one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve participated in.”

The bond shared between the players deepened this past November when teammate Waylon Sauer tragically died in a car crash. Sauer also helped out with the unified team and his spirit energized the entire basketball program, his teammates said, adding that they play every game in his memory. Lake called Sauer one of the hardest-working players in the entire program.

The players all agreed that their shared experience with Unified Basketball has elevated their game. According to Lake, the relentless positivity and resilience of his Unified Basketball teammates have been an inspiration.

“They’ve taught me to show up, no matter the result,” Lake said. “I might miss three or four shots in a row, but I remember to just keep positive and keep shooting.”

The Vineyarders put their resiliency on full display Sunday. The team trailed for most of the game but never gave up. Behind 44-51 entering the fourth quarter, Lake hit two free throws to spark a late-game rally. With under five minutes to play, the MVRHS fan section erupted when Zack stole a Nantucket pass and raced down court. His layup tied the game 56-56 before nine unanswered points from Nantucket ended the comeback attempt.

The Vineyard faithful. — Hailey McLaughlin

The loss ended a four-game winning streak for MVRHS (7-3). The team plays next on Jan. 19 at Cape Cod Academy. According to Lake, the loss marked his first to Nantucket in his four years at the high school.

That said, he found a silver lining as he walked off the legendary parquet floor.

“Today was a humbling loss, but I think it’s a great team-morale building opportunity to play here alongside kids we’ve played with since kindergarten,” he said. “It means a lot to see so many people rally around us and travel here to see us play. We’re playing every game for that entire community.”

More pictures.