HAMPDEN — With just one starter and two core players back from last year’s tournament entry, the Hampden Academy boys basketball team could have been victimized by opening-game jitters Saturday afternoon.
Not to worry, though, as the new starters played like veterans and the veterans — particularly senior guard Graham Safford — provided the necessary leadership as the Broncos rolled to a 65-52 victory over Class A rival Bangor.
Safford scored 29 points, including five 3-pointers, to go with nine rebounds and four steals as Hampden broke the game open early and withstood a modest third-quarter comeback by the Rams before pulling away to what likely will be a valuable accumulation of Heal points as the season continues.
“He played well tonight, and I think we’re going to find there are nights when he plays even better than that,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett of Safford, who scored 26 in the Broncos’ 56-49 season-opening win at Bangor last season.
“He does most of the dribbling for us, and the rest of the guys are supposed to catch the ball and face up and keep the ball moving. He’s going to do most of the dribbling and find the open man, kind of like Steve Nash with Phoenix. He makes good decisions with the ball and he’s an overachiever rebounding-wise for a guard.”
Backcourt mate Christian McCue added 15 points, including eight straight at the end of the third quarter and the outset of the fourth, to restore Hampden to an 18-point lead after Bangor had crept within 10 largely due to the efforts of senior forward Josiah Hartley, who led the Rams with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
“I definitely think I score in bunches just from shooting a lot,” said McCue, a junior who made just two of his first 13 attempts before sandwiching a pair of 3-pointers around the third-quarter break. “My touch will either be on or off and so I was just going to keep shooting until they go in.
“It was about time, though.”
Hampden also got stout play from its inside tandem of senior Gabe Burditt and juniors Logan Poirier and Fred Knight, who battled the lengthy Rams effectively near the basket to help limit Bangor to just 29 percent (16 of 54) shooting from the field.
“We have high expectations this season,” said Safford. “We know we’re young, but we also know we’re pretty talented and we know that the young guys bring a lot of intensity and when we play defense we’re going to win.”
Hampden jumped out to a 12-2 lead and built that margin to 20-4 by the end of the first period as Safford scored nine early points and Burditt added two 3-pointers.
“My concern was that we only returned one guy who had started a game for us, and that we’d have a little deer-in-the-headlights look out there, but we set the tone early,” said Bartlett. “We wanted to control the paint, and our bigs limited their second-chance opportunities in that first quarter and I thought that set the tone for the whole game.”
The Broncos’ lead at halftime was 31-18, with Hartley the only Bangor player to make a field goal and the Rams shooting just 4-of-26 from the field.
“We took too many quick shots, I thought, especially when the momentum was in their direction,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed. “I thought we didn’t do a good job of moving the basketball from side to top side. We missed a few shots, and I don’t think we reacted positively to that, so instead of going back and transitioning well on defense, we were still thinking about the shot we missed and we weren’t getting back.
“I just think their big players played well tonight and did what they had to do, and we didn’t do what we had to do tonight.”
Bangor did begin working the ball inside more consistently after intermission, closing the gap to 43-33 on a basket by Hartley with 1:03 left in the period.
Then McCue took control, making two free throws before hitting a 3-pointer as time expired in the quarter, then making another 3-point to restore Hampden to a 51-33 cushion in the opening moment of the final period.
“I think Christian was rushing his shots a bit in the first half, their guys were getting to him a little quicker than he expected,” said Bartlett. “But overall, if he gets that extra second to eye the rim his percentages skyrocket, and when he gets that extra second I have a lot of confidence he’s going to knock his shot down almost everytime.”
Poirier added 10 rebounds for Hampden, while Tristan Thomas scored 10 points and Luke Hettermann eight for Bangor.