BANGOR — It was a game that deserved to be decided by a defensive play, and so it was.
Sophomore forward Zach Blodgett scored 12 points and had a key blocked shot in the final seconds as the Bangor boys basketball team earned its sixth straight win with a 31-29 victory over Lawrence of Fairfield at Red Barry Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Bangor (8-4) was clinging to a 30-29 lead when Lawrence inbounded the ball after a timeout with 17.8 seconds left. Brooks Spaulding missed a shot from the right baseline, but teammate Bobby Belanger grabbed the offensive rebound to the left of the basket and went up for a short-range followup shot, only to have Blodgett swat it away.
Nate Frazier grabbed the loose ball and made 1 of 2 from the line after being fouled with 4.4 seconds left.
Lawrence then missed a desperation shot in the final seconds.
“Coach [Roger Reed] said in the huddle that we couldn’t give up second-chance points and rebounds off a miss, so everyone crashed the boards,” said Blodgett. “Their guy got in front for the rebound, but he kept the ball high and I stepped over and got it.”
The win should continue Bangor’s rise within the Eastern Maine Class A standings, given that the Rams entered Tuesday night’s play ranked eighth in the region while Lawrence — which defeated the Rams 62-52 at Fairfield on Dec. 15 — was ninth.
“We needed this win to move up in the rankings,” said Blodgett, “so this was a big win for us.”
It also was a somewhat hopeful experience for 6-6 Lawrence, which was coming off a 65-23 drubbing at Mt. Blue of Farmington on Saturday and was in search of its first win at Bangor since 1988.
“After we got blown out by Mt. Blue we said it’s time to change our philosophy and get back up into people’s faces defensively,” said Lawrence coach Mike McGee, “and I thought we did a great tonight job defensively. We had a chance to win the game, we just didn’t do it.”
Long possessions and physical defense ruled the evening, particularly during the first half when the teams combined for 22 points and 16 turnovers.
Spaulding scored 10 of his team-high 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the opening two quarters to help the Bulldogs take a 12-10 lead at the break.
Neither team led by more than two points until consecutive baskets by Maxx Alexander and Blodgett gave Bangor an 18-14 edge with 4:38 left in the third quarter, as Bangor began finding more offensive success inside while extending its defensive pressure on the perimeter.
“What I was impressed with was in the second half how they stepped up the pressure on our guards and forced us out closer to half-court,” said McGee. “We were getting in pretty close in the first half and getting some good looks, but their guards picked it up in the second half.”
Bangor led by as much as 27-20 when Alexander scored a follow-up basket with 2:12 left in the third quarter and Dan Taft scored on a drive 33 seconds into the final period.
But Bangor managed just one Ryan Larochelle free throw over the next 6 minutes, 4 seconds as Lawrence rallied. Matt Perkins drove for a three-point play and fed Belanger for a layup, and Belanger later hit two free throws to give the Bulldogs a 29-28 lead with 2:30 left.
That was Lawrence’s first lead since midway through the first quarter, and lasted until Blodgett took a pass from Mack Susi and gave Bangor the lead for good on a low-post basket with 1:23 remaining.
“It comes down to defense,” said Blodgett. “We both struggled on offense but we both did a good job defensively and it came right down to the wire as to who was the better defensive team.”