BANGOR — While one winning team dominated its Eastern Maine Class C boys basketball quarterfinal in almost every possible category, the other won despite being outperformed in a couple of key statistics.
After Penquis of Milo weathered a determined second-half comeback attempt by Stearns of Millinocket and pulled out a 54-47 victory in Monday morning’s first game, top-seeded Lee Academy got off to a slow start against a hot-shooting Madawaska squad, but quickly rebounded en route to an emphatic 79-49 victory on the Bangor Auditorium floor.
The 18-1 Lee Pandas face the No. 4 Patriots (14-5) Friday at 8:45 p.m. Both No. 5 Stearns and No. 8 Madawaska finish up 12-7.
In the early game, the Patriots went on a 12-2 run late in the first quarter to take control and head into halftime with an 11-point lead, but the Minutemen stormed out of the locker room to make it a tight game down the stretch.
“They really stepped up their game all around and played a much better second half,” said Penquis coach Tony Hamlin, whose Patriots were outrebounded 18-3 on the offensive boards and 29-17 overall.
Stearns also committed fewer turnovers with nine to Penquis’ 16, but the Patriots shot much better from the field — 58.8 to 33.3 percent.
Penquis senior guard Bryan Russell got off to a strong start, scoring 11 points in the first half, but was held to six in the second.
“We made some adjustments on Russell and our help-side defense,” said Stearns coach Greg Marter. “They weren’t major, but I think it was more getting the first-half jitters out of the way. We just couldn’t dig ourselves out of the hole we were in.”
The Minutemen did cut their deficit to three points in the final 3 1/2 minutes, but the Patriots went 8-for-8 from the line in the last 2:40 while limiting Stearns’ open looks and free-throw opportunities.
“We wanted to take some time off the clock with every possession, but to me it was our defensive effort and foul shots down the stretch that made the difference,” Hamlin said.
That and the play of senior forward Jerell Arefein, who found a seam in Stearns’ defensive armor with several quick cuts and drives to the right block in the second half en route to a game-high 18 points. Arefein also grabbed six of his seven rebounds in the second half.
“I was just letting the game come to me and I saw the openings, so I took them,” Arefein said. “They came out a lot harder in the second half and we were just trying to weather the storm.”
Billy Eurich was in the eye of the Stearns storm with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Brandon McLaughlin also contributed 13 points and eight rebounds.
In the late morning game, the Owls threw an early scare into the Pandas by hitting their first three shots and taking a seven-point lead in the first quarter, but Lee responded.
“This is the first time we’ve really had to come back from a deficit early in a game,” said Lee coach Randy Harris. “I don’t know if we’ve trailed at the end of the first quarter all year long, especially by that much.”
It didn’t last long as Lee took the lead with a 9-0 run to start the second quarter and never gave it away.
“We started great out of the gate, but I dare say our nerves kind of came into play,” said Owls coach Don Deschenes. “Plus they’re quite talented and hard to match up with, size-wise. If one guy doesn’t show up or gets shut down, another steps up and scores.”
Cases in point: Senior guard A.J. Harris torched the Owls for 21 points in the first half and then was held to two in the second. Daniel He, a 6-foot-7 center, scored 10 in the first and just five in the second. That was the good news for Madawaska.
The bad? Arturas Makovskis doubled his output in the second half after scoring six in the first and finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Also, Bryan James scored all 13 of his points in the second half to fill the gap.
Overall, He finished with 10 rebounds and Harris had six as the Pandas outrebounded the Owls 41-24.
A.J. Harris credits an early timeout and quick mental adjustment for the turnaround.
“We knew they had great shooters, so we thought we’d play them man-to-man and get up tight on them and they’d struggle, but we were all mixed up and two or three of us were sitting in the paint picking our noses and not guarding anyone,” said the senior guard and coach’s son. “That first timeout dad took was good. He got our attention… Put it that way.”
Matt Deschenes and Deejay Gendreau provided Madawaska’s 1-2 punch with 21 and 20 points, respectively. They each also had five rebounds.