BANGOR, Maine — For the first eight minutes of play Tuesday night, flashbacks of frustrations past bedeviled the Brewer boys basketball team.
But they were nothing a dose of full-court defensive pressure couldn’t overcome, as the unbeaten Witches forced 10 Bangor turnovers in the second quarter alone and went on to a 57-35 victory over the Rams at Red Barry Gymnasium.
“We wanted to come out and play hard-nosed defense,” said Brewer senior guard Coby Hutchins. “We wanted to press the majority of the game and try to make them nervous with the ball, and then we wanted to fall back and make sure we got rebounds so we could push it on the other end.
“We’ve noticed in other games that when we press for a while the games start to speed up gradually and we’ll end up getting turnovers like we did tonight.”
Billy Bissell had 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots for the 4-0 Witches, who have a big home date against Edward Little of Auburn on Friday night. Hutchins added 11 points, including a 3-of-6 effort on 3-point shots, while Dom Drake had eight points and eight rebounds and point guard Kyle O’Connell had seven points and seven assists.
Brewer struggled offensively at the outset against Bangor’s 1-2-2 zone — with two lob passes from O’Connell to Bissell accounting for all of the Witches points as Bangor held a 13-5 lead at the end of the first period.
Clark Noonan then hit one of two free-throw tries to give the Rams their largest lead 1:48 into the second quarter, but Bangor managed just three more points in the half as Brewer forced turnover after turnover and also began to force the action offensively.
O’Connell penetrated Bangor’s defense and passed the ball back out for three assists during the period, and Bissell scored eight points as Brewer outscored Bangor 16-4 to take a 21-17 lead at the break.
“We came out a little shaky in the beginning,” said Bissell, “but once we got our press going they couldn’t break it. We played them tight, and they had a hard time getting the ball up court and we were able to get going.”
Brewer extended its lead to 34-20 on a short jumper by Drake with 1:05 left in the third quarter, but Ryan Larochelle countered with a follow-up basket and Nate Frazier hit a 3-pointer to ignite a 7-0 run that pulled Bangor back within 34-27 early in the fourth period.
Ray Bessette briefly quelled Bangor’s momentum with a 3-pointer, but Bangor used a follow-up shot by Cal Winchester and two free throws by Zach Blodgett to draw within 37-31 with 6:11 left.
Brewer called time, and came out of the break with 16 unanswered points over the next 4:08 to put the game away. Drake dominated the backboards to help the Witches control the basketball with several offensive rebounds.
“We always talk about momentum swings,” said Hutchins. “We knew it would come back to us. We just had to stay steady and make sure we kept our heads about us, and we played through it.”
Drake hit two free throws and O’Connell scored on a baseline drive before Bissell added a baseline floater to give coach Clayton Blood’s club a 45-31 lead. After O’Connell and Drake each hit a free throw, Hutchins hit a jumper and Tyler Bessette made two free throws and a layup as Brewer extended the margin to 53-31 with two minutes to play.
“Coach called a timeout and we got in the huddle, and after coach was done talking I told the guys, ‘this is where we play with heart, this is where heart wins the game and this is where we win the game,’” said O’Connell.
“We all stepped it up, we hit free throws and started penetrating again and things came to us. That’s what happens when you play with heart.”