AUGUSTA, Maine — Sometimes it takes an extraordinary individual performance to spark an upset in the opening round of the high school basketball tournament.
The Bangor Rams faced such a challenge early in Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinal against Cony of Augusta, as Walker Cooper torched the Rams for 14 first-quarter points.
But when Cooper and his teammates couldn’t sustain that offensive momentum, Bangor applied the defensive clamps and held Cony to just 19 points over the final three periods en route to a 59-37 victory at the Augusta Civic Center.
“I think we realized what we had to do on defense more than anything,” said Clark Noonan, who led Bangor with 16 points and nine rebounds, “and we stepped it up on offense, too. I think we had more gas in our tanks than they did at the end of the game.”
The win was the 16th straight for third-seeded Bangor, now 17-2 and set to face defending regional champion Edward Little of Auburn in Wednesday night’s semifinals.
The second-ranked Red Eddies, who ousted Bangor 44-39 in last year’s semifinals, defeated No. 7 Mt. Blue of Farmington 59-44 in its quarterfinal Saturday.
No. 6 Cony ends its season with a 10-9 record.
Zach Blodgett added 14 points and seven rebounds for Bangor, while Tristan Thomas contributed eight points and a solid defensive effort that held Cooper scoreless in the second half.
“I told Tristan he had to make [Cooper] put the ball on the floor,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed. “You can’t just let him shoot it, and that’s what we did.”
Cooper, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, shot 5 of 6 from the field in the opening period and banked in a 3-pointer from the right wing while being fouled as time expired for a four-point play that gave Cony an 18-15 lead.
But Cooper managed just two more points in the game — on his first shot of the second quarter — as Bangor’s collective reach and depth began to pay dividends defensively.
“We had to get after [Cooper] a little bit better, that’s basically what we had to do,” said Reed. “He’s got tremendous confidence in his ability to shoot the ball. He’s a set shooter as opposed to a jump shooter, and when he catches the ball at 6-5, not too many people are up there with him.”
Bangor withstood 35 percent shooting from the field and early foul trouble to Noonan and Thomas to take a 26-25 halftime lead.
But after Cony’s Ryan Minoty tied the game with a free throw nearly three minutes into the second half, the Bangor offense erupted, first for 16 unanswered points, and later for 12 straight points as the Rams outscored Cony 28-5 to pull away to a 54-31 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
The 16-0 run began with a defensive play, as point guard Luke Hetterman stole the ball and went in for a layup.
Bangor then asserted itself inside, with Noonan earning two free throws and then scoring a layup off another Cony turnover before Blodgett scored after grabbing an offensive rebound to give Bangor a 34-26 lead.
Nate Henigan followed with two free throws before Hetterman fed Thomas and Blodgett for 3-pointers to expand the margin to 42-26 before Cony scored its first field goal of the second half on a floater in the lane by Robert Foss with 1:55 left in the third quarter.
“We want to establish an inside game and then go outside when we can,” said Reed. “They were doubling Clark on the inside early and we were trying to find a way to get it to someone else but we were just missing shots. In the second half we came alive.”
Minoty followed with a 3-pointer for Cony before Bangor embarked on its 12-0 game- clinching run to open the fourth quarter. Again, much of the Rams’ offense came inside, where Noonan made a follow- up shot and Blodgett added a short jumper and a second-chance basket of his own.