HAMPDEN — Graham Safford’s evening began quietly, with a two-point first quarter against the two-time defending Eastern Maine Class A champions from Edward Little of Auburn.
But a glimpse at the scoreboard early in the second period of Tuesday night’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference contest generated an instant sense of urgency that not only motivated Safford, but the entire Hampden Academy team as it rallied from an early 23-9 deficit for a 73-65 victory over the previously unbeaten Red Eddies.
“Looking up at the scoreboard and seeing that you’re down 14 points, it kind of kicks you in the rear and tells you you’ve got to get going, and that’s what we did,” said Safford, who finished with 26 points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists.
Logan Poirier added 14 points and six rebounds for the Broncos, while Fred Knight scored 11 points and Christian McCue had 10 as Hampden shot 49 percent (26 of 53) from the field and 80 percent (16 of 20) from the free-throw line.
“Our defense and the turnovers we made were costly,” said EL senior Bo Leary, who scored a game-high 30 points. “They had countless layups off denied passes and steals they took to the hoop. Our defense really went downhill, we didn’t stop the ball as much as we needed to when they drove to the basket.”
The victory, in Hampden’s only meeting of the season with EL, could position the 6-1 Broncos for a top finish in the Eastern A Heal points come mid-February, future upset losses not withstanding.
For 5-1 EL and 6-1 Bangor, currently the other top contenders in the division, do not meet during the season, and with the Red Eddies not expected to suffer many regular-season losses Hampden has now acquired a healthy dose of Heal points that its two chief rivals won’t be able to get.
“It’s a great win,” said Safford, “but as great a win as it was it’s now on to (Friday night’s game at) Mt. Blue.”
Hampden needed Safford’s big night to offset Leary’s constant maneuvering near the basket that produced 10 of 17 shooting from the field and a 10-of-13 effort from the free-throw line.
But while the 6-foot-4 Leary proved tough to stop, EL struggled to find other offensive sources.
“All week we were game-planning on how to ‘D’ Bo up because we know he’s strong and got a good mid-range jumper. Our bigs contained him for some of the game, but he got going,” said Safford. “But I think it’s important when you play against a guy like that, he’s going to get his points but you’ve got to contain the rest of the guys and I thought we did a good job of that.”
EL spotted Hampden the game’s first five points before moving out to a 21-9 lead by the end of the first quarter thanks to five early points by Brandon Giguere and three straight 3-pointers during a 64-second span late in the period by guard Cody Nicholas.
Leary scored to open the second quarter to extend the margin to 14 points, but Hampden guard Christian McCue answered with a 3-pointer and Safford fed Cody Miller for a layup to get the Broncos started.
Hampden erased the deficit in seven minutes and forged a 34-34 tie on a 3-pointer by Gabe Burditt, and while EL used two late free throws by Quin Leary to take a 36-34 halftime lead the Broncos were back in business.
“When we called our second timeout (midway through the second quarter) we readjusted what we were doing defensively,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “We talked about winning those next four minutes to end the half, and I thought from there we played much better.”
Hampden outscored EL 12-2 to open the third quarter, with Safford opening the scoring with a 3-pointer and following a three-point play by Knight with a steal-and-layup and a feed to McCue for a fast-break layup good for a 46-38 lead.
That advantage grew to 59-47 on a seven-point run early in the fourth quarter that featured a three-point play, a short jumper, two rebounds and a blocked shot by sophomore forward Tyler Norris.
EL countered with its own 12-2 run, with Leary working the inside for seven points as the Red Eddies closed within 61-58 with 3:17 left.
But with Hampden shooting 7 of 9 from the field and 7 of 8 from the line in the fourth quarter, Edward Little could get no closer.
“In the fourth quarter we started to make a run, but the way they were shooting was a major difference in the game,” said EL coach Mike Adams. “Defensively we just didn’t make stops.”