MILO — The offense may be somewhat of a work in progress for the Penquis Valley boys basketball team during the early stages of the 2011-12 season.
But the defense is as relentless as usual for coach Tony Hamlin’s club.
Sophomores Isaiah Bess and Trevor Lyford combined to score 37 points and Patriots forced 25 Dexter turnovers Tuesday night as Penquis remained undefeated with a 61-24 victory over the Tigers in a Class C game at Oakes Gymnasium.
“I thought we played decent defense,” said Hamlin. “I didn’t think we played defense the way we’re capable of, but our advantage is that we go 12 deep so we keep putting fresh legs in there and keep putting the defense on over time so it makes it tough to function.”
Penquis has allowed an average of just 29.8 points per contest during its 4-0 start, and against Dexter amassed 14 steals while limiting the 1-2 Tigers to 10 field goals on 27 percent shooting.
“Our team defense is pretty good,” said Bess. “We know how to play help-side, and our on-ball defense is pretty tough to get around. Our defense creates our offense pretty much, we get run-outs and play fast up and down when we get turnovers.”
Dexter was within 16-11 midway through the second quarter after two straight inside baskets by junior forward Dylan Graffam, but after a Penquis timeout the Patriots outscored the Tigers 9-2 to extend their lead to 25-13 by intermission.
Bess made a 3-pointer and Lyford scored after grabbing an offensive rebound to start the run, then Penquis responded to a follow-up basket by Graffam with a a fast-break layup by Tyler Rosier and a steal and layup by Bess to stretch its lead to double digits at the break.
The Patriots then continued to amp up their fullcourt pressure and limited Dexter to one point over the final 7:19 of the third quarter to build a 40-18 cushion by the end of the period.
“We started a little slow, we’ve done that the last couple of games,” said Lyford. “I think it’s home-game jitters for sure, but we’ve got some guys who light the fire on defense and get us going, and then we start hitting shots.”
Bess, a 6-foot-2 forward, led Penquis offensively with 19 points and five rebounds, while Lyford, a 6-0 guard, totaled 18 points, five steals and four assists.
“I thought we played pretty well, defensively especially,” said Bess. “Some of our shots weren’t falling in the first half, but that’s why it’s a 32-minute game, so we can get into the flow of an offense and eventually start hitting shots.”
Graffam had a big evening for Dexter, totaling 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Casey Jordan added seven points for the Tigers.
Penquis faces the most rigorous part of its schedule to date just after the new year, with matchups against Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln (Jan. 3), defending state champion Lee Academy (Jan. 7) and Orono (Jan. 11) among a stretch of four games in nine days.
Hamlin hopes his team’s defense will enable the Patriots to meet those midseason challenges.
“Everyone wants to eat the elephant in one bite,” said Hamlin, “but you’ve got to work it for eight minutes, 16 minutes, 24 minutes to take the legs out of the other team, and that’s what we expect the kids to do.
“If we get beat, it’s going to take an effort from somebody because defensively we’re going to be tough to score on.”