BREWER, Maine — After racing out to a 13-point lead in the first half by harrying, harassing and hindering Bangor into an uncharacteristic number of turnovers Tuesday night, the Brewer Witches had to hold on for dear life to pull out a victory and remain unbeaten.
The Witches watched a 14-point lead in the second half shrink all the way down to one with three minutes to play, but they regrouped and scored five of the final seven points to pull out a 62-57 victory.
“You knew it was coming, but I thought our kids handled their run well,” said Brewer head coach Ben Goodwin. “The place was going wild, they knocked down some big 3s and we settled in and came right back at it, getting back in our defense.”
The 4-0 Witches also spread out their offense and scored an easy basket on a backdoor cut with 50 seconds to play to go up 59-55 and force Bangor to foul the rest of the way. The Rams did, and although Brewer struggled from the line, going 3-for-7 in the final 50 seconds, it was just enough.
Perhaps the key play of the game came with 23 seconds left and Brewer leading 59-57. Tyler Bessette was on the line for two shots. After hitting the first, he missed the second, but lunged to his right, tipped the rebound away from a Bangor defender, tracked it down in the corner and then slammed the ball off a Bangor player’s foot out of bounds to give Brewer the ball back.
“The second I shot it, I could tell it was going right and I saw [Clark] Noonan crash to go in, so all I could think of was getting the ball because we were only up by three and if I could get it, I thought that might take the air out of their tires,” said Bessette, who finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and two assists. “As I grabbed it, I could feel there were three of them around me, so I turned and just wung it hoping I’d hit one of them and got one of them off the foot.”
Bangor fouled again and Nate Carson hit one of two to all but ice it with a 61-57 lead.
“It sends us right through the roof,” said Carson, who had 14 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks. “When you beat Bangor, along with Hampden, it’s big. This is probably one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in.”
It wasn’t too fun for Bangor coach Roger Reed, who was shaking his head over 27 Rams turnovers.
“I think we lost the game in the first half, specifically the second period,” said Reed. “We turned the ball over at least 10 times in 18 possessions.
“We’ve had 23, 22 and 25 turnovers the last three games. We’re suffering from a plague.”
Brewer exerted unwavering man-to-man defensive pressure and utilized half-court and fullcourt presses and traps to keep Bangor’s ballhandlers from getting too comfortable.
“We like to get in the passing lanes and everything else defensively because we knew we had to get them out of their offense so they couldn’t just pound it inside with their height advantage,” said Goodwin. “When they did get the ball inside, we tried to help as much as we could and take away their second opportunities.”
Ray Bessette, Tyler’s brother, also had a solid, all-around effort with 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“Outside of me, there’s not much height, but our guards are athletic and strong and they get their hands on the ball,” said Carson.
Despite a pronounced height disadvantage, the Witches held their own on the boards as Bangor had a slight 36-33 edge overall. Brewer also committed 10 fewer turnovers (17).
Junior forward Zach Blodgett led the 1-2 Rams with 26 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Noonan had 12 points and nine boards, and Tristan Thomas came off the bench for 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.