BANGOR, Maine — Bates College made the men from host team Husson University look uncomfortable in their own tournament and gym Saturday as they dictated tempo throughout the championship game of the 42nd annual Paul Bunyan Classic.
The Bates Bobcats combined a patient and deliberate offensive strategy with consistent and unyielding man-to-man defensive pressure to defeat Husson 75-63 at Newman Gym.
In the consolation game earlier Saturday, the University of Maine-Fort Kent downed UM-Machias 95-83.
Tourney MVP Chris Wilson led the 5-2 Bobcats with a game-high 21 points. The senior from Brewer thoroughly enjoyed his pseudo homecoming game with seven assists (also a game-high) and two steals in 38 minutes.
“If we can slow them down in transition and not let them get easy postups or 3s, we figured with our patient offense, we’d eventually get what we wanted, so the focus was on defense,” said Wilson, whose father Dana Wilson starred for Husson in the 1970s. “One thing we’ve lacked in past years is on-the-ball defensive pressure.
“That’s what we wanted this time was to make their guards uncomfortable out there.”
The strategy seemed to pay off as the 3-3 Eagles shot just 34.5 percent from the floor, committed 17 turnovers and were outrebounded 34-28.
“They’re a bigger team, but we have some bodies, too. It was a perfect matchup for us because we’re big and strong with a lot of depth,” said Bates coach Jon Furbush. “We chart deflections and I think active hands can — at the very least — create the illusion that we’re putting more pressure on them than we actually are and that takes them out of their comfort zone.”
Husson leading scorer Matt MacKenzie looked uncomfortable as he was held to 13 points and just four rebounds against a rotating lineup of big, fresh forwards. Senior guard and fellow all-tourney pick Brock Bradford of Kenduskeag managed just 11 shots and 13 points.
“For the most part, it was their physical play that pushed us out of our offensive comfort zone,” said Husson coach Warren Caruso. “They did a great job of moving us to places we didn’t want to operate out of.”
All-tourney pick Brian Ellis had a solid, all-around effort with 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals for Bates. Sophomore forward Ryan Weston of Bangor had 10 points, seven boards and two steals in just 18 minutes.
“Four games in a week and three of them back to back to back is a tough thing, but we came in here thinking we had something to prove and wanting to find an identity,” said Weston. “Playing like we did and taking home a championship will only help.”
After a back-and-forth first half featuring eight ties and four lead changes, Bates started the second with an 18-4 run and Husson never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
In the consolation game, the UMFK Bengals combined outside shooting with dogged rebounding and points in the paint for a 16-point halftime lead, then used some defense to thwart a UMM rally that closed a 16-point gap to three with 8:44 to play.
“We were losing guys in transition and let their shooters get some open looks,” Bengals coach Eric Werntgen said of his team’s renewed defensive effort after he called timeout with 8:36 left, following a 13-0 Clippers scoring run.
Thirteen seconds later, all-tourney pick Goran Nagradic hit one of his five 3-pointers for UMFK. The Clippers responded with four straight points, but Alan Campbell hit two of his four 3s to make it 84-75 with 5:31 left.
“We actually told them not to shoot the 3 and to pound it inside, but they don’t always listen,” Werntgen said. “We at least went inside initially and then looked to reverse it.”
The end result was nine free throws, seven of which were made, in the final four minutes for UMFK.
Ilija Kalajdzic paced the 4-4 Bengals with 21 points and nine rebounds. Othniel Hyliger had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Nagradic had 17 points, while Jimmy Lopez and Campbell each scored 13.
All-tourney selection Zach Armstrong led the 3-4 Clippers with 17 points and six rebounds. Clifford McDonald had 15 points and eight boards. Jeremy Tolbert had 11 points in 10 minutes off the bench, and Nathaniel Case scored 10.