AUGUSTA, Maine — Trailing is nothing new for the Edward Little of Auburn boys basketball team.
Neither is winning.
The Red Eddies fell behind for their third straight tournament game Friday night, but rallied from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to win their second straight Eastern Maine Class A championship by defeating Brewer 59-55 in the regional final at the Augusta Civic Center.
“We had some good momentum going in the second half, but we got a little sluggish offensively,” said Brewer coach Ben Goodwin. “We put a great run on them to get ahead, but they did a good job of playing through it.”
No. 2 Edward Little will take a 19-2 record into next Saturday’s state final at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland
Top-ranked Brewer, which was seeking its first regional championship since 1988, ends its season at 17-4 — with three of those losses to Edward Little by a combined nine points.
Brewer dominated the middle of the game with its defense, transforming a 31-16 second quarter deficit into a 50-42 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Then Edward Little switched defenses, and a triangle-and-two that focused on Brewer stars Dom Drake and Ray Bessette slowed the Witches from their preferred fast pace and limiting them to just one field goal over the game’s final 5 minutes, 41 seconds.
That spurred EL’s comeback, along with the knowledge that the Red Eddies already had come back from a 9-0 game-starting deficit against Mt. Blue of Farmington in the quarterfinals and a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit against Bangor in the semifinals Wednesday night.
That’s exactly what we said when we got behind, that we’d done this before —two days ago against Bangor,” said EL guard Yusef Iman. “We’d been there, done that, we were more experienced than them, we just needed to settle down, do what we do and make it happen.”
Iman, a senior guard who was one of two returning starters from EL’s 2009 Eastern A championship team, scored eight of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a baseline jumper and a fast-break layup to pull the Red Eddies within 51-49 with 4:03 left.
Point guard Tim Mains made two free throws after a steal to forge a 53-53 tie with 1:35 to play, and after Drake answered with a runner, Bo Leary made a fast-break layup and Iman hit 1 of 2 from the line after making a steal to give Edward Little its first lead since midway through the third quarter at 57-56 with 1:12 left.
Each team came up empty on its subsequent possessions before Iman sealed the win by making 3 of 4 late free throws.
Brewer coach Ben Goodwin tried to freeze the EL veteran twice, but Iman made two after a Witches’ timeout with 18.2 seconds left, then a third after another timeout to give EL a four-point lead with 9.2 seconds to play. “He’s a good player, and he knocked down the shots when it counted,” said Goodwin. “You’ve got to give him credit for that.”
Mains added 12 points and Leary 11 for Edward Little, while James Philbrook had nine points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
“In that fourth quarter we took a chance and switched up the defense and tried something different,” said EL coach Mike Adams, “and finally we did a little better job of passing the basketball and finding the open guy.”
Drake led Brewer with 16 points and five steals, while Bessette had 14 points and four steals. Edward Little hit 8 of its first 10 shots in the game while building a 22-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Point guard Tim Mains loosened up the Brewer defense with two 3-pointers, then Philbrook became an assist-maker from the high post, setting up teammates for five baskets in the game’s first eight minutes.
Iman sparked the Red Eddies’ transition game early, scoring twice on the fast break as well as hitting two jumpers in the opening period.
But Brewer battled back to within 33-27 at halftime, a comeback founded in its defense. The Witches used fullcourt pressure to force eight Edward Little turnovers during the second quarter, and Drake began to aggressively attack the basket while scoring seven points in the period.
EL had its largest lead at 31-16 on a fast-break layup by Iman with 3:25 left in the half before Brewer outscored the Red Eddies 11-1 over the remainder of the period – a run that included a 3-pointer and a buzzer-beating follow-up shot by reserve forward Blake Birmingham.
The Witches carried that momentum in the second half, forcing six more EL turnovers while Drake and Bessette combined for 12 points and center Nate Carson hit two jumpers.
Brewer made its first seven field-goal tries in the third quarter, and took a 40-38 lead midway through the period when back-to-back steals by Drake and Tyler Bessette led to two baskets by Drake.
“When they start getting it going defensively, they come up about a hundred notches,” said Adams. “Their intensity goes up, then they start hitting shots. They’re a dangerous team.”
Brewer used an 11-0 run to build a 45-38 cushion before Iman ended a 4 minute, 6 second scoreless drought for EL with a baseline drive good for a three-point play with 54.9 seconds left in the period.
Ray Bessette countered with a 3-pointer from the left baseline to give Brewer a 48-41 cushion entering the fourth quarter, and Carson followed a Philbrook free throw with a jumper to give the Witches their largest advantage, 50-42 with seven minutes remaining.