EAST MACHIAS, Maine — The Washington Academy boys basketball team has been known traditionally for strong perimeter play and up-tempo offense.
Guard play remains a strong suit this winter, but the Raiders’ 70-40 victory over Woodland at Gardner Gymnasium on Friday night suggests that WA is developing the complementary inside play and defense needed to make a deep run in the Eastern Maine Class C tournament come February vacation week.
“Defense is what we’ve been trying to make our focus,” said WA coach Kenrick Liburd. “We know we can score because we’re loaded with offensive weapons, but the big thing is can we defend people over four quarters, and those are the biggest changes we’ve made over the last year or so.”
Six-foot-2 junior forwards Bryce Colbeth and Wen Hao Song each grabbed 10 rebounds in helping the Raiders gain their fifth straight win and improve to 12-1 heading into Tuesday’s rematch with three-time defending Eastern Maine Class C champion Calais — the only team to defeat WA so far this season.
“People look at our bigs and think that because they’re not traditional 6-5 or 6-6 that we don’t have big guys, but they forget how active our big guys are,” said Liburd. “They’re very difficult to guard, they give us a lot of versatility, and they keep the ball alive even if they’re not getting the ball in their hands.”
Washington Academy outrebounded Woodland 48-26 overall, and used that advantage on the offensive end of the floor against Woodland’s zone defense to generate 32 more field-goal attempts than the Class D Dragons, who played without sidelined starting forward Cory Rolfe.
“They rebounded very well against us, and that was our fault,” said Woodland coach Troy Cilley, whose team falls to 9-4 heading into a game against Calais on Monday. “In the 2-3 zone we ought to be able to find a body, but we didn’t do a good job early on in both halves of finding a body and those second-chance points really hurt us early in the first quarter and again early in the third.”
Washington Academy’s man-to-man defense also limited Woodland to just 28 percent (12 of 43) shooting from the field.
“I think we played very well on defense,” said WA’s Ben Teer. “We’ve been playing good basketball lately, and the big thing we’ve been doing is keying in on certain players starting out, and as the game goes on we fan out and take on the rest of the team.
“We’ve picked up our defensive intensity and that’s what’s been helping us lately.”
Junior guard Matthew Smith led WA offensively with 13 points, including eight in the first quarter, as the Raiders opened the contest with eight consecutive points and went on to build a 17-9 lead.
Junior guard Noah Von Rotz added 11 points, with his fast-break dunk with 1:50 left in the third quarter extending the WA lead to 49-24 and marking the end of the evening for the Raiders’ starters.
Teer and Song each added eight points, as 10 different WA players scored.
WA took a 32-18 halftime lead when Robbie Smith picked up a loose ball and scored at the second-quarter buzzer, and Woodland might have been closer but the Dragons made just 6 of 19 free-throw attempts over the first two quarters. Woodland finished the game at 14 of 32, or 44 percent, from the line.
“We got to the foul line repeatedly, we got just what we wanted, but we just couldn’t buy a basket,” said Cilley. “We shot about 30 percent from the line in the first half and we finished up around 40 percent, and you’re not going to beat WA shooting 40 percent from the foul line.”
Sears, a senior forward, led Woodland offensively with 13 points, while senior center Eddie Flaherty grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.