MILLINOCKET, Maine — After five straight games away from Wentworth Gymnasium, the Stearns boys basketball team was glad to be home Tuesday night.
The familiar surroundings served them well.
The Minutemen jumped out to a 12-2 lead 5 minutes 30 seconds into the game and never trailed in defeating Foxcroft Academy 62-50 in a battle of Eastern Maine Class C contenders.
The win ended a modest two-game losing streak for coach Wade Duplisea’s club, which will play five of its final seven games at home. Stearns, now 9-2, had lost a three-point decision at Lee Academy and a one-point battle at Schenck of East Millinocket last week.
“We had a couple of close losses, so we just had to come out with intensity tonight,” said senior guard Garen Manzo, who scored 14 points and dished out six assists. “This was our first time back in quite a few games, so it was nice to come out and play on our home floor with our fans.”
The Minutemen also got a big effort from junior forward Brandon McLaughlin, who bounced back from a midseason slump with a game-high 20 points.
“The last few games my scoring’s been down and my overall game’s been affected, but tonight I just got really focused and picked up my game,” he said. “I tried to work myself and get the layups and inside shots going early, and that helped my jump shots later on.”
Senior guard Josh MacDonald added 13 points and junior forward Billy Eurich scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds for Stearns.
Ryan Stroud paced 10-2 Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft with 15 points. Ian Champeon added eight points and eight rebounds, while James Johnson grabbed 10 rebounds and Josiah Richard contributed six assists.
Stearns used full-court defensive pressure to force eight Foxcroft turnovers in the first quarter, leading to a succession of high-percentage shots for the Minutemen, who shot 54 percent from the field (28-of-52) for the evening.
“We wanted to pressure them. They have good ballhandlers, their backcourt is really good, but we thought we could pressure them and make them make some turnovers,” said Manzo.
Stearns also attacked the basket from its offensive sets, rarely settling for any shot more than 15 feet from the basket. McLaughlin and Eurich combined for 15 first-half points as the Minutemen took a 29-18 lead into the locker room.
Champeon scooped in a follow-up shot for the first points of the second half, but Foxcroft never got closer than nine points the rest of the way in having its eight-game winning streak snapped.
Foxcroft struggled from the field throughout the evening while absorbing its first loss in regulation play — the Ponies’ other defeat was a 63-57 overtime decision at Penquis of Milo.
Foxcroft connected on just 21 of 63 field-goal attempts (33 percent), including 5 of 17 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“We’d lost two in a row, so we talked about how we had to come out and get the lead early to build our confidence,” said Duplisea. “I thought we did a good job with the defensive intensity and took them out of their game a little and made them take some shots that maybe they weren’t looking for.
“Our defense, overall, played really well.”
These two teams are scheduled to match up again Saturday evening in Dover-Foxcroft.
“I thought we did a good job with the defensive intensity and took them out of their game a little and made them take some shots that maybe they weren’t looking for.”
STEARNS COACH WADE DUPLISEA
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
Billy Eurich (left) of Stearns shoots over Kyle Gould (middle) and James Johnson (40) during Tuesday night’s Class C basketball game in Millinocket. The Minutemen won 62-50.