BANGOR, Maine — After spending a lot of time devising an exotic defense to try and contain Bangor Christian star guard Brett Bradford, Woodland boys basketball coach Troy Cilley discovered he was better off keeping things simple.
Cilley’s fourth-seeded Dragons switched from a diamond-and-one defense to man-to-man, improved their rebounding and held Bradford in check much of the second half en route to a 47-39 Eastern Maine Class D semifinal win at the Bangor Auditorium Friday morning.
Oh, and he got a little help from Ben Sears as well.
Sears scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half to help lead the 14-7 Dragons into an 11 a.m. regional final Saturday against defending champion Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.
Second-seeded Central Aroostook beat No. 3 Shead of Eastport 61-49 in the early game.
While the bulk of Sears’ production came in the paint, it was his only 3-pointer of the game, right after one by teammate Aaron St. Pierre (13 points), that may have changed the momentum for good to start the fourth quarter.
“Those two 3s were as big as anything. I had to pull out of the zone,” said Patriots coach Aaron Wilcox. “We hadn’t planned on playing it much, but it was working so we stuck with it, until those shots.”
The shots gave the Dragons a 37-32 lead with 6:56 left and they would never lead by less than three the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Woodland’s man defense wasn’t making anything easy for the Patriots, who committed seven of their 11 turnovers in the second half.
“We’ve seen a lot of defenses lately, and that diamond was working in our favor,” said Wilcox, whose No. 9 Pats wound up 9-12. “We didn’t expect the man to hurt us like it did, but they did a great job playing it.”
Sears said the defensive switch paid off in two ways.
“We tried a diamond-and-one, which we’d never done before, but we were spread out too much,” Sears explained. “We had to rebound better because that’s where they were getting most of their points. We played better down low and used our big guys better.”
Bradford led the Pats with six steals and 19 points, despite being shadowed closely by St. Pierre and Scott Boomer. Tyler Alexander backed him up with 16 points and seven rebounds. Jon Johnson had a game-high 11 rebounds.
Freshman Andrew James had 13 points and four assists for the Dragons.
In the early game, while Manny Martinez was Mr. Outside, as usual, for Central Aroostook, Caleb Kelly was Mr. Inside.
Kelly scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Martinez hit three 3-pointers and was 9-for-10 from the foul line en route to 20 points in helping the Panthers earn a return trip to the EM Class D final.
Coach Tim Brewer’s Panthers improved to 18-3 while the Tigers wrapped a solid 17-4 campaign.
The game was a contrasting matchup of Shead’s size against Central Aroostook’s quickness, and the defending state champions gradually wore out the bigger Tigers in the second half.
“We knew going in the locker room at halftime they were tired. We really wanted to wear them out and we did,” said Kelly.
The game went back and forth throughout the first half, with neither side giving much ground, but the Panthers stole the momentum at the end of the half, embarking on an 11-4 run over the final 4:22, capped by Kelly’s putback at the buzzer which gave CAHS a seven-point halftime lead and an ever-so-important boost.
“That really gave us some momentum going into the locker room,” said Kelly.
The Tigers hung tough in the third quarter but had spent lots of energy trying to stay with the Panthers over the first 24 minutes.
“I think over the course of the game it got to them in the fourth quarter,” Brewer said.
Martinez came out and canned a 3-pointer from the right wing to start the quarter, and after Shead’s Tom Pottle answered with a perimeter bucket of his own, the Panthers scored the next five points to take a nine-point lead.
Shead got no closer than seven while the Panthers went 12-of-14 from the line in the fourth to maintain control.
“[Shead was] hitting baskets, [so] if we don’t hit our free throws we don’t win the game,” Brewer said.
Logan McLaughlin and Kasey Brewer contributed seven points apiece for Central Aroostook while Wayne Clossey had 18 points and David Medeiros 12 for Shead.