FAIRFIELD, Maine — The Bangor boys basketball team arrived at Folsom Gymnasium on Tuesday night knowing it had something of great value to its hosts.
For the Lawrence Bulldogs began the evening desperate for the Heal points an upset of the red-hot Rams would represent.
That Bangor was able to withstand a gritty challenge by Lawrence to earn a 45-40 Class A victory was a testament to its own continuing development.
“[Lawrence] needed a big win, to get back up in the Heal points,” said Bangor junior forward Zach Blodgett, “so they came out and gave a good effort, but we did what we needed to do to get the win.”
Blodgett scored a game-high 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field to go with nine rebounds and four blocked shots in leading 9-2 Bangor to its eighth consecutive victory.
Junior guard Tristan Thomas added 10 points and three steals for the Rams, with one of the steals leading to a key three-point play with 2:29 left in the contest after Lawrence had crept to within 38-36.
Senior guard Bobby Belanger led 3-9 Lawrence with 16 points and six rebounds, while senior guard Christian Powers added nine points on three 3-point goals.
Both teams struggled at the outset, combining for 16 turnovers during a first quarter that ended with Lawrence holding a 9-8 lead.
The Bulldogs were facing a considerable height disadvantage, but the 6-foot-2 Belanger worked his way inside for 10 first-half points, and sophomore guard Tim Dudley beat the second-quarter buzzer with a runner from the right baseline as Lawrence maintained a 23-20 at intermission.
But Bangor switched to a three-guard lineup after the break, and that gave Blodgett more room to work on the inside. He scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds in the third quarter alone as coach Roger Reed’s club edged out to a 34-32 lead by the end of the period.
“I was playing the 3 [small forward] in the first half and coach Reed put me in the post in the second half,” said Blodgett. “If they didn’t double in time I could make a move and if they did double I could kick it out to one of the guards.”
Blodgett and sophomore forward Patrick Stewart each worked inside for a basket to extend Bangor’s lead to 38-32 with 4:51 left in the game, but Lawrence’s Nate Letourneau made a follow-up shot and Spencer Carey made a layup after a Bangor turnover to make it a two-point game.
Lawrence got the ball back after a missed Bangor shot with a chance to tie or take the lead, but Thomas foiled those plans.
The Bulldogs were working for a shot along the left sideline some 15 feet from the baseline when Thomas grabbed an errant pass and drove the length of the court for a layup. He was fouled on the play, and the subsequent free throw restored Bangor to a 41-36 cushion.
“I was told to stay on [Powers] because he’s a great 3-point shooter, and as soon as I saw him turn his back the ball was tipped and I was just like ‘I’m going to go for it,’“ said Thomas. “I got the ball and went to the basket, and I remembered coach Reed saying to be strong with the ball so I did and ended up with a three-point play.”
Noonan added two more free throws with 1:18 to play to give the Rams their largest lead of the night, but Belanger made two free throws and a layup to give Lawrence one last hope, pulling the Bulldogs within a single possession at 43-40 with 22 seconds left.
Bangor then inbounded the ball to Thomas, and after being fouled he made two free throws with 17 seconds left to put the game away.
“This was a good game for us because it helps gets you ready for the playoffs,” said Blodgett, whose fifth-ranked Rams visit No. 6 Skowhegan on Thursday. “Lawrence is a physical team, probably one of the most physical teams out there, so it gets you ready.”