HOWLAND — The Penquis of Milo boys basketball team had no one on its roster within four inches of 6-foot-7 Penobscot Valley star Joe McCloskey as the two Class C powers battled in front of a crowd of more than 650 at Sereyko Gymnasium on Thursday night.
So the Patriots focused on not letting the Howlers’ big man get the ball in the first place, and their combination of depth and determination were pivotal factors as Penquis ran its winning streak to five games with a 49-35 victory.
“Our defensive intensity is very difficult for a team to duplicate in their own practices, particularly if you’re not that strong on the bench,” said Penquis coach Tony Hamlin. “I think our defensive intensity put them on their heels a bit and didn’t allow them to get in their offense, and there was nothing they could do about it.”
Penquis (5-1) used 12 of its 14 available players to limit Penobscot Valley to 34 percent (12 of 35) shooting from the field and induce 18 turnovers. McCloskey led the Howlers with game-high totals of 13 points and 15 rebounds but managed just nine field-goal attempts against an interior defense led by 5-foot-11 senior Taylor Delano.
“Their depth hurt us,” said Penobscot Valley coach Jamie Russell. “They were able to use a lot of people and stay fresh and wear us down. Even when we were coming back we couldn’t quite get there because we were out of gas.
“The physicality of the game bothered us,” he added. “I wasn’t very happy with it, but that’s the way it is.”
Neither team mustered a steady flow of offense, save for midway through the third quarter when Penquis broke the game open behind freshman Isaiah Bess. Making just his third varsity start, Bess scored eight points and dished out an assist for the other two points of a 10-0 run that stretched the Penquis lead to 35-17 with 2:09 left in the period.
“I knew our team was struggling and I knew I could go by the kid that was guarding me, so I was going to step it up,” said Bess, who finished the game with 11 points. “It didn’t go so well for me in the first half, but my teammates were behind me and my coaches were telling me to keep shooting so that’s what I did.”
First the 6-foot forward hit a jumper from the lane, then drew the defense to him and fed Jerell Arefein for a short jumper. Thirty seconds later Bess made a 3-pointer off a feed from senior guard Bryan Russell — son of the Penobscot Valley coach — before capping off the run with a baseline drive good for a three-point play.
“Isaiah’s one of those kids who flies by the seat of his pants,” said Bryan Russell, who added 11 points, six rebounds and five assists to the Penquis attack. “He may not make the best decision every time, but he sure helps us win.”
Penobscot Valley (6-2) tried to rally, but only twice during the fourth quarter could the Howlers muster consecutive baskets, and never did they score more than five straight points while Penquis maintained at least a nine-point lead.
“We talked before the game about how we needed to play 32 minutes of defense, to go just as intense as we do in practice but to do it for 32 minutes, and we did it for 32 minutes and that’s why we won,” said Bryan Russell.
That defense was omnipresent from the game’s outset, as Penquis held Penobscot Valley scoreless for the first 5:32 of play before the Howlers’ Jacob Jones scored from the lane after the Patriots had taken a 7-0 lead.
Penquis extended its first-half cushion to 10 points when freshman Trevor Lyford hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 3:40 left in the second quarter before Penobscot Valley rallied within 18-13 on a runner by Penquis transfer Eddie Cobb with three seconds left before intermission.
Ryan Scopino then scored 14 seconds into the second half to draw the Howlers within 18-15, but Penquis answered with five straight points, including a drive by Arefein and a follow-up shot by Delano that started a 17-2 run by the Patriots.
Arefein finished the night with eight points and seven rebounds for Penquis, while Cobb added 12 points for Penobscot Valley.