BREWER, Maine — With so many high school basketball games in recent years low-scoring affairs that test the patience of fans seeking instant gratification, Tuesday night’s clash of Class A contenders Brewer and Mt. Blue of Farmington was a breath of fresh offense.
Defense did fuel many of the scoring chances for both teams, however, particularly during the second half when Mt. Blue forced 14 Brewer turnovers to pull away to a 69-55 victory.
“We knew coming out in the second half we wanted to amp up the intensity,” said Mt. Blue senior guard Jamie Sawyer, “because we’re kind of a run-and-gun style team, and if we can get the other team to turn it over it really helps our offense.”
Mt. Blue, ranked fifth in Eastern A coming into the contest, extended its winning streak to five games with its second victory of the season over second-ranked Brewer.
Both teams are now 12-3.
“This was a satisfying win for us,” said Mt. Blue coach Jim Bessey. “[Brewer] had a lot motivation to play because we had beaten them at our place, it was a get-back game for them, and there were a lot of Heal points out there, too.”
Senior guard Ben Russell led Mt. Blue with game-high totals of 25 points and six steals. He scored 16 points in the first half on 7-of-8 shooting from the field, and when the defense tightened against him after intermission he became more of a facilitator — dishing out four of the Cougars’ 19 assists for the game.
“Right now we’re going through a stretch where we’re playing better as a team, seeing the open man, making that extra pass and getting the better shot,” said Russell.
Sawyer finished with 16 points and seven assists, while Sean Simpson came off the bench to score 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting.
Mt. Blue also got a big effort from junior forward Ryan Backus, who grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds as the Cougars earned a 35-22 advantage on the backboards.
“One of the things we wanted to do against them was to rebound,” said Bessey. “We knew they were going to shoot it and there were going to be a lot of long rebounds, so the ones that were inside we had to get because we had a little size advantage even though they can jump right out of the gym. I thought if we checked out we’d be OK.”
Sophomore forward Ray Bessette led Brewer offensively with 16 points, while junior forward Dom Drake added 13 points and senior forward Billy Bissell had eight points and nine rebounds.
Mt. Blue held a scant 38-35 halftime lead despite shooting 59 percent (16 of 27) from the field but intensified its full-court pressure after the break and at times got a Brewer team willing to run with the Cougars going a bit too fast for its own good.
The Witches committed nine turnovers in the third quarter alone, and Mt. Blue scored the final 10 points of the period to take a 52-41 lead.
“With all the turnovers, we were playing defense all the time,” said Brewer coach Clayton Blood. “We didn’t have the ball much in the third quarter.”
Brewer crept within 58-53 three minutes into the fourth quarter with a six-point run capped off by Coby Hutchins’ 3-pointer from the right of the key. But the Witches went scoreless over the next four minutes and Mt. Blue scored eight unanswered points — with Russell making a runner from the lane and two free throws and also feeding Sawyer for a layup.
“That team has a very, very good backcourt,” said Blood of Russell and Sawyer. “They challenged us, and that’s what we usually do to other people.”