ELLSWORTH — Nick Holt has had never had a first half like he experienced at Katsiaficas Gymnasium on Thursday night.
The senior guard shot 5-for-5 from beyond the 3-point arc en route to 19 points before intermission as Ellsworth built a big lead and cruised to a 69-50 victory over Presque Isle in an early season showdown of Class B boys basketball unbeatens.
“It’s just getting in the groove early, I guess,” said Holt. “Any one of us can do it, but tonight I hit a couple of shots early and I kept shooting and they kept going in.”
Holt made 8 of 10 shots from the field overall in the first half while teammate Thomas Sawyer added 10 points before intermission as coach Peter Austin’s Eagles moved out to a 44-26 advantage.
Presque Isle made a modest comeback bid, drawing within 52-39 at the end of the third quarter thanks to a pair of late 3-pointers by Cole Richards.
But Ellsworth scored the first eight points of the fourth period, including two baskets by Brandon Braley and two free throws each by Kyle Haslam and Sawyer, to put the game away.
Holt finished with a game-high 24 points, while Sawyer had 14 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Josh Bean added 12 points and five assists for Ellsworth, which shot 52 percent (25 of 48) from the field overall and 56 percent (9 of 16) from beyond the arc.
Junior forward Tyler Brooks led Presque Isle with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Matt Eager scored 10 points, Richards had nine points and Wilder York dished out seven assists.
Ellsworth is now 6-0, while Presque Isle dips to 5-1.
“That was our first biggest test, and we’ve got another one with Caribou [Friday], so we have to be ready for that,” said Sawyer.
This was a highly anticipated matchup between two of the three remaining unbeaten teams in the Big East Conference, and Ellsworth and Presque Isle battled to a 9-9 stalemate through the game’s first three minutes.
But Ellsworth began to take control of the game’s pace, using its collective quickness to speed up the contest against the taller Wildcats while continuing to make its outside shots.
“We wanted to run, obviously, get up and down the court and get their bigs tired,” said Austin. “I don’t know if we did that or not, but I know we just shot unbelievably in the first half.
“If we miss three of those, it’s a game because I know Presque Isle is a good team, but you just never know.”
Indeed the Eagles, and particularly Holt, rarely missed any of their high-risk, high-reward shots early in the contest, with Holt hitting two 3-pointers during a personal 8-0 run to give the Eagles the lead for good at 17-9 lead with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
And while Presque Isle tried to maintain contact by working the ball inside, it was no match for Ellsworth’s perimeter play.
Holt and Sawyer each made a 3-pointer later in the period, and a buzzer-beating follow-up shot by teammate Steven Mahon gave the Eagles a 28-17 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Presque Isle hung within 30-22 on a tip-in by Brooks midway through the second period, but Holt, Mahon and Sawyer each scored from beyond the arc — Ellsworth made 8 of its first 10 3-point tries — and Bean scored on a pair of drives as the Eagles stretched their lead to 44-24 before Brooks scored the final basket of the half.
“We knew coming into it that they were going to be big, but we’re a fast-paced team, so we wanted to keep getting it up and down the court and try to wear them down and I guess it showed,” said Sawyer.
Intermission may have served to cool off Ellsworth’s outside shooters a bit, and Presque Isle tried to counter with a perimeter game of its own as Andrew Kofstad made a 3-pointer early in the third period before Richards connected twice from long range to get the Wildcats within striking distance entering the game’s final eight minutes.
“We knew if we were going to have a chance to win we’d have to keep them to about 50 points,” said Presque Isle coach Terry Cummings, “and that’s what we wound up scoring. You can’t give up 69 points and expect to win too many games against good teams.”