EAST SULLIVAN — The Sumner boys basketball team has played somewhat under the radar through the first half of the high school basketball season, victim of a schedule light in Heal points.
All the Tigers can do is to defeat the opponents on their schedule, and so far that’s largely been a mission accomplished as coach Walter Crabtree’s club improved its record to 8-1 on Thursday night with a 67-39 win over Bangor Christian.
“I’m a little shocked, to be honest,” said Sumner junior point guard Gabe O’Brien, who scored a game-high 21 points to go with five assists and four steals. “I didn’t think we’d be this strong. I wish we’d play stronger teams. We’re not playing the best teams, but I couldn’t be prouder of our team. I’m still happy.”
The win leaves the Tigers in sixth place in Eastern Maine Class C despite their lofty record because their schedule includes no games against other teams currently ranked among the top eight in the division. Sumner’s best win so far this winter came against No. 9 Fort Kent — a team the Tigers will visit Saturday for a pointworthy rematch.
“The community doesn’t necessarily understand that, they wonder how can you be 8-1 and still in sixth place, but we can’t control that,” said Crabtree. “All we can do is win the games on our schedule, and hope some of those teams get some wins.”
Sumner, which often favors man-to-man defense and fullcourt pressure, employed a 2-3 zone designed to control Bangor Christian standout Tyler Alexander, and it served to limit the Bangor Christian offense to 24 percent (13 of 53) shooting from the field.
Alexander scored a team-high 19 points for the 2-8 Patriots, but 10 came in the fourth quarter after Sumner had built a 20-point lead.
“We played them man up there for a quarter (during a season-opening 57-49 Sumner win) and we couldn’t guard the Alexander kid,” said Crabtree. “He’s big, he’s quick, he’s got a great release and he was getting us in foul trouble. We went to a 2-3 zone and that gave them problems up there, so we thought in our building we’d see what they could do against the 2-3, and we had good luck with it.”
Sumner did struggle early on offense against Class D Bangor Christian, committing nine turnovers in the first quarter as the Patriots earned a 9-8 lead.
But the Tigers took control midway through the second quarter, scoring 10 unanswered points — a run featuring two baskets and two assists by O’Brien and a 3-pointer and a steal-and-layup by Brett Deniger — to break a 14-14 tie.
The Sumner lead was 24-16 at halftime, and the margin was still eight points nearly two minutes into the third quarter before the Tigers went on an 11-0 run that included two baskets each by Deniger and O’Brien and a layup by Tylor Martin to move out to a 37-18 cushion with two minutes remaining in the period.
Martin, a sophomore forward, finished with 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds for Sumner while Deniger, one of just two seniors on the 11-player roster, added 12 points and five assists.
“What I like most about our team is that we are a team,” said O’Brien. “Compared to last year we really connect with each other and share that team bond on the floor. In the second half tonight we were much more of a unit, we shared the ball, spread the floor and played a lot of team defense. That’s what our team is all about.”