BANGOR — Tristan Thomas’ first-quarter travails became Brewer’s fourth-quarter downfall Thursday night, as the senior guard returned from foul trouble to help Bangor score the game’s final 20 points as the Rams pulled away to a 58-35 Class A boys basketball victory at the Bangor Auditorium.
Sidelined after drawing his third foul with 1:09 left in the opening period, Thomas didn’t return to action until the outset of the fourth quarter with his team clinging to a 33-30 lead over a Brewer team that needed a win to qualify for postseason play.
The 6-foot-2 senior scored nine points over the game’s last eight minutes while subduing Brewer star Ray Bessette, who kept his team in contention with several acrobatic drives to the basket earlier in the contest.
“Coming back into the game was just like playing in a new game after sitting for two quarters,” said Thomas. “It was definitely good to give my team a boost.”
Bessette missed his only two shots of the fourth quarter.
“As hard as Raymond plays, and he doesn’t come out of the game, either, for a new fresh defender like Thomas to come in and guard him, it was tough,” said Brewer coach Ben Goodwin, whose team finished with a 7-11 record. “But I give Ray all the credit, he’s been a great leader for this team this year.”
Thomas finished with a game-high 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the field.
“Tristan got in foul trouble and I thought we were in trouble because of the size of our other guys who had to try to handle Ray, because Ray’s a handful no matter who’s on him,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed. “But we got through most of the game and got Tristan back in the fourth quarter and he played really well.”
Zach Blodgett added 12 points and six rebounds for Bangor, while Josiah Hartley had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Bessette led Brewer with 13 points, while backcourt mate Yuhi Sasaki added 10.
“We knew we couldn’t turn the ball over and had to take care of our possessions and get good shots on every opportunity we had,” said Goodwin. “We had to slow it down, run some halfcourt stuff and get the ball to Ray and Yuhi. We tried to ride them as long as we could, and they gave us everything they had.”
The win was the 17th straight for 17-1 Bangor, which will hold the No. 1 seed heading into the Eastern Maine Class A tournament after squaring off against Hampden in Monday’s 5 p.m. Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship game at Cony High School in Augusta.
And while the Rams defeated Brewer by 28 points in their earlier meeting this winter, this time the Witches were armed with a sense of desperation that revealed itself in a patient offense that committed just nine turnovers and kept the contest — and their postseason hopes — within reach into the fourth quarter.
“We wanted to break it down possession by possession and try to win each possession because we knew that would be key against them,” said Bessette.
Bangor took a 16-9 lead on a 3-pointer by Patrick Stewart seven minutes into the game, but with Thomas sidelined Bessette hit a 3-pointer of his own, fed Justin Brier for a banked-in jumper from the top of the key and added a left-handed reverse layup to pull the Witches with 18-16 midway through the second quarter.
The Rams maintained a 25-20 edge at the break, but Brewer scored the first six points of the second half to take a 26-25 lead when Bessette fed Matt Cuskelly for a layup with 4:48 left in the third quarter.
That was the first of four lead changes during the next 90 seconds, the final one coming when Hartley scored from the low post to give Bangor a 29-28 edge.
Bangor’s lead was just three points entering the final period before Thomas fed Blodgett for a 3-pointer and scored on a drive to extend the advantage to 38-30.
But with Bessette covered, Sasaki tried to keep his team close, scoring from the lane and then hitting a 3-pointer to narrow the gap to 38-35 with 5:24 left.
Those were Brewer’s final points.
“Brewer was very patient and made sure (Bessette and Sasaki) got the shots,” said Reed. “The other guys set screens and rebounded and they took most of the shots and that was effective. They kept the game slow and close so they’d have a chance to win at the end, but we managed to push it out a bit.”