LEE, Maine — Lee Academy and Houlton, two Class C basketball teams with just one starter back from a year ago, clashed Saturday hoping not only to pick up a win but to more clearly define themselves.
For Lee, that mission was accomplished.
Sophomore guard A.J. Harris scored 15 points and dished out seven assists as the Pandas held off the Shiretowners 63-54 at Mallett Gymnasium.
Lee — despite having just three seniors on its roster — also fielded a team capable of great balance, as Harris and lone returning starter Dean MacDonald provided solid perimeter play while 6-foot-7 sophomore Grant Sun displayed flashes of dominance closer to the basket.
“We’ve got a long ways to go, but we certainly have a lot of good ingredients,” said Lee coach Randy Harris. “We’ve got some guys who can handle the ball, we’ve got some shooters, and we’ve got some size.”
A.J. Harris also had five rebounds and four steals as the 1-1 Pandas built a second-half lead of as many as 13 points.
Sun, one of five players from China on the Lee roster, came off the bench to add 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting for Lee, including one major-league coast-to-coast drive after grabbing a defensive rebound in the third quarter.
“He’s a very young kid and he’s never played American basketball before, so you saw some travels out there,” said coach Harris, “but he’s certainly got a lot of athleticism and he’s going to give people some trouble because of his size.”
MacDonald, a senior guard boasting the most returning experience from the 2007-08 Lee team that reached the Eastern C final, added 12 points for the Pandas while 6-3 junior Tyler Doty contributed 11 points and nine rebounds. Senior forward James Bates led 2-2 Houlton with 18 points and six rebounds, while senior forward Porter Gervais had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Bates scored 10 points in the game’s first 10 minutes, 41 seconds against Lee’s man-to-man defense, but he found his touches limited the rest of the way after Lee switched to a 1-2-2 zone midway through the second quarter.
“We did the same thing against [Washington Academy in a season-opening loss], we started out man,” said coach Harris.
“In 25 years I’ve always prided myself in being a man-to-man coach, but we had to play zone against WA because they were too quick, and today the Bates kid was chewing us up in the first half down low and we didn’t want to get in foul trouble, so we decided to go zone and surround Bates and make someone else beat us.”
Houlton, coming off two solid victories over Madawaska and Presque Isle, led just once, 2-0 on a baseline jumper by Bates 41 seconds into the game.
Lee then used back-to-back 3-pointers by Ben Guido and Doty to take a lead it held throughout the contest save for three ties midway through the first half.
The Pandas led 33-28 at intermission, and Harris hit two straight 3-pointers early in the third quarter to extend Lee’s cushion to 41-32.
Houlton (2-2) closed within five points on a jumper by Jordan Bragan and a drive by Bates, but Sun grabbed a defensive rebound and went on a one-man fast break and then scored again on an offensive rebound as Lee regained a 49-40 lead at the end of the period.
The Pandas took their largest lead early in the fourth quarter, as Doty hit a short jumper and Harris scored on an offensive rebound to stretch the margin to 53-40.
Houlton got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“We’re a very athletic team, but outside of Bates we’re not floor-tested,” said Houlton coach Mike Fogarty. “The other kids have really come a long way, though, and each game we’re getting a little better. Today we struggled a little bit, but it was things we can work on.”