HAMPDEN, Maine — With the tallest front line in Eastern Maine Class A, the Bangor boys basketball team knows where its strength resides.
Shoring up other areas of the game has been the focus of the first half of the Rams’ schedule, and Thursday night’s 51-47 victory over Hampden suggests they are making progress.
“Our problem at the beginning of the year was turnovers,” said junior forward Zach Blodgett. “It was like 20-plus every game, but we’ve cut those down.”
Bangor overcame 18 turnovers while avenging an opening-night loss to Hampden thanks largely to a suffocating defense that limited the Broncos to one field goal during a 9- minute, 1-second stretch of the second half as the Rams turned a nine-point deficit at intermission into a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
“Defense helped us turn the corner tonight like we knew it had to,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed, whose team is now 7-2 after posting its sixth consecutive victory. “That’s what we preach, defense, rebounding and pushing the ball inside because we have advantages there.”
Clark Noonan scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds to pace the Bangor offense, while sophomore Patrick Stewart added 11 points and 11 rebounds and Blodgett scored 11 points with nine rebounds as the Rams amassed a 33-22 advantage on the backboards.
Graham Safford led Hampden Academy with 17 points, while Jacob Moore added 15 points and five rebounds.
Hampden, 7-2 after having its own six-game win streak snapped, made 6 of 9 3-point shots while building a 29-21 halftime lead. Safford had three early 3-pointers, while Moore had one 3-pointer as well as a thunderous dunk while amassing 10 points at the break.
But Bangor clamped down on Hampden’s perimeter shooters after the break — the Broncos were just 1 of 9 from long range in the second half .
“The two guys who were hurting us were Graham and Jacob,” said Blodgett, who guarded Moore after intermission. “We had to close out harder on them and force them to put it on the floor.”
Without its 3-pointers falling, Hampden scored just 18 points over the final two periods while shooting 29 percent (7 of 24) from the field.
“In the third quarter we got a little stagnant, and they made the first push and got the lead,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett, “and we didn’t make shots coming down the stretch until right at the end.
“We didn’t play well in the second half, but we still almost played well enough to win.”
Bangor, meanwhile, used its height advantage to work the ball inside in the second half.
Noonan, Bangor’s 6-foot-6 senior center, made all five of his second-half shots in helping the Rams shoot 61 percent (13 of 19) from the field over the final two periods.
“We have a bunch of kids 6-5 and over so that was our goal, to pound it inside,” he said.
Bangor took the lead for good at 38-36 on a 3-pointer by Tristan Thomas with 1:15 left in the third quarter and built its advantage to as many as seven points, the final time at 46-39 on an inside basket by Noonan with 3:54 to play.
Hampden rallied behind three driving baskets by Safford and pulled within 48-47 when Safford fed Moore for a layup off a Bangor turnover with a minute to play.
But the Broncos couldn’t capitalize on a couple of subsequent possessions, and one free throw by Bangor point guard Luke Hetterman with 8.2 seconds left and two Noonan free throws with two seconds remaining put the game away.
“This is a big step for us,” said Blodgett. “This was a playoff type of game, so it will pay off for us in the end and give us more experience for when we get to the playoffs.”