BANGOR, Maine — The high school basketball tournament didn’t begin Thursday night — it only felt that way at sold-out Red Barry Gymnasium, where Bangor outmuscled archrival Brewer 59-46 in a battle of Class A powers.
The win was the 15th straight for Bangor since a 62-57 loss at Brewer on Dec. 15, and it should leave the 16-2 Rams as the third seed for the Eastern A tournament that begins Feb. 13 at the Augusta Civic Center.
Brewer (15-3) will remain the region’s No. 1 seed entering postseason play.
This was a battle of Bangor’s size against Brewer’s quickness, and once the Rams focused on getting back defensively to slow the Witches’ fast break the game belonged to Bangor senior center Clark Noonan.
Noonan made 12 of 19 shots from the field while scoring 24 points, with nearly everything coming in the paint as Bangor was fairly relentless in working the ball inside against the shorter Witches.
“Clark was a man tonight,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed of Noonan, a first-year varsity starter. “We’ve ridden him all year long and he’s been just a monster player for us.”
The 6-foot-5½ Noonan also dominated the backboards, grabbing 18 rebounds as Bangor earned a 37-21 victory in the battle of the glass.
“When every shot goes up, I consider it a pass to me,” said Noonan, who hauled down 11 rebounds in the second half. “I just try to see where my man is, box out and just be strong with the ball when I bring it down.”
Zach Blodgett added eight points for 16-2 Bangor, while Maxx Alexander had seven points and a season-high eight assists.
“We know we have the advantage down low, so we really want to swing the ball six or seven times to find that opening in the post,” said Alexander. “I think that’s where the assists came from.”
Brewer got a stellar performance from senior point guard Ray Bessette, who scored a game-high 26 points on 9 of 15 shooting from the field and a 6-of-7 effort from the free-throw line.
Dom Drake added 15 points for the Witches, but Brewer simply couldn’t muster enough offense from its half-court sets to keep pace with a Bangor team that shot 49 percent (26 of 53) from the field.
“Bangor did a great job of getting the ball in the paint and scoring in the paint,” said Brewer coach Ben Goodwin,” whose team shot just 30 percent (16 of 53) from the field. “We just didn’t have any answers for them, and they did a good job of continuing to go there.
“Those are two different teams. We want to get out and run and they want to pound it inside, and they executed better tonight.”
Brewer used its quick-strike offense to score the final 11 points of the first quarter, seven by Bessette, to take a 15-8 lead.
But Bangor soon focused on its transition defense, and offensively the Rams worked the ball inside — primarily to Noonan — for high percentage shots against the smaller Brewer front line.
Alexander made a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup as Bangor scored the first nine points of the second quarter to take a 17-15 lead, and Noonan went on to make 5 of 6 shots from the field in the period as the Rams moved out to a 28-22 halftime advantage.
“At the beginning of the game we realized that after they got the rebound they were beating us down the court,” said Noonan. “We realized we had to get back to shut them down, so we hustled our butts off to get back and stop their fast break.”
Noonan scored twice inside and Alexander added a jumper as Bangor scored the first six points of the third quarter to stretch its lead to 34-22.
Brewer got within 36-30 on a 3-pointer by Bessette later in the period, but Noonan then scored and kicked the ball out to Patrick Stewart for a jumper to restore Bangor to a double-digit lead.
Brewer managed one more run, pulling within 42-37 on a scoop shot by Bessette with 5:39 left in the game.
But Bangor responded with 10 straight points, including a 3-pointer by junior point guard Luke Hetterman and inside baskets by Blodgett and Noonan, to put the game away.
“I think this win is a huge momentum booster for us,” said Noonan. “I love having this one under our belts going into the tournament.”