MILO — When Bryan Russell saw the Stearns of Millinocket boys basketball team come out in a 2-3 zone Monday night, the Penquis senior was ready.
Russell hit four of his first five 3-point attempts in the first half, sparking the Patriots to a big early lead en route to a 47-32 victory over the Minutemen in a Class C battle at Oakes Gymnasium.
Russell, who made six 3-pointers in his team's season-opening 54-53 loss to Schenck of East Millinocket on Friday, used a similar long-range touch to help coach Tony Hamlin's club outscore Stearns 20-2 in the first quarter and extend that margin to as much as 29-8 before settling for a 30-13 halftime cushion.
"I'm feeling real confident," said Russell, who is averaging 24.5 points per game during the Patriots' 1-1 start. "It all starts at the beginning of the game. If you get on a roll, it becomes contagious so you just keep trying to give out a lot of positive energy on the offensive and the defensive sides of the court and it usually works out for the best."
Russell finished with 20 points, four steals and three assists, and was complemented offensively by freshman Trevor Lyford, who scored seven of his 12 points in the first quarter and made the Patriots' other two 3-pointers.
"Bryan and Trevor can shoot it, we've really got four or five kids who can shoot it but Bryan in particular can knock 'em down if you give him some space," said Hamlin. "He and Trevor will hurt you with it, so right out of the chute we jumped on them and that was pretty much it because when you're on the road that's a pretty tough hill to overcome."
While Russell and Lyford were Penquis' primary offensive protagonists, senior forward Jerell Arefein spearheaded a man-to-man defense that forced 21 Stearns turnovers over the first three periods, nine in the first quarter alone.
"We practice an hour a night on defense and hope the offense takes care of itself," said Russell, whose team committed just 11 fouls that yielded one Stearns free throw. "Tonight was a perfect example of that."
Arefein's task was to contain Stearns standout Brandon McLaughlin, who scored 35 points during the Minutemen's season-opening win against Searsport on Saturday. McLaughlin finished with nine points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field, including 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
"I couldn't have done it without the help of my teammates, they stepped up when I couldn't keep him under control," said Arefein, who added nine points and three steals. "I just tried to stick with him and keep my feet moving. He's got a good jump shot so I tried to stay on top of it and keep my hand up."
Penquis' defense limited Stearns to 16 field-goal attempts in the first half while inducing 13 turnovers.
"Coach is really good at having us play hard, in-your-face man defense, sometimes fullcourt and sometimes halfcourt," said Lyford. "Tonight we did a good job. We switched and talked a lot and got around screens and we wound up liking the result."
Senior forward Billy Eurich finished with a team-high 10 points for Stearns.