BANGOR — Six weeks after they opened their seasons in battle, not a lot has changed between the Hampden Academy and Bangor boys basketball teams.
It’s still tough for the teams to score against each other these days, and Friday’s rematch provided another tight finish with the same bottom line as top-ranked Hampden edged third-seeded Bangor 42-39 in a Class A clash before a crowd of 1,000 at Red Barry Gymnasium.
“The thing about playing now is you’ve already played everybody so you know what’s coming,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett, whose team also defeated Bangor 56-48 in overtime on Dec. 9. “The key is can you do what you do better than they do what they do, and that’s where we’re at now for the rest of the season.”
Hampden (11-1) narrowly won that battle on this occasion thanks in great part to the two-way play of sophomore Zach Gilpin.
The 6-foot-5 forward scored a game-high 16 points, including nine during the final 3:37 of the third quarter after Bangor had rallied to take a four-point lead — its largest advantage of the night.
“I think we’re all starting to find our comfort zones,” said Hampden senior guard Christian McCue. “Zach’s really coming into his own as a scorer. You can tell he feels way more comfortable on the court now. He’s really finding his rhythm.”
Gilpin also played a key defensive role in helping to limit Bangor standout Patrick Stewart to nine points, just two after the first quarter.
“I’d say he’s one of the top players in the state, so I was kind of nervous at first but I just tried to do my best,” said Gilpin, who got plenty of help from frontcourt mates Logan Poirier and Fred Knight when Stewart approached the lane. “I knew my teammates had my back, so I just tried to close out on him so he wouldn’t get any open threes. I knew if he got by me there would be teammates there to help.”
McCue added 13 points for Hampden despite the tight defense applied by Bangor senior John Szewczyk, while Poirier grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and blocked three shots.
“It’s tough to score when two teams are playing as hard as these teams were playing tonight,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed. “John did a great job on McCue, we just didn’t do the job we needed to do on Gilpin.”
Sophomore guard Xavier Lewis came off the bench to lead Bangor offensively with 12 points, all in the second half.
Senior forward Robbie Brookings joined Stewart with nine points, while Stewart grabbed nine rebounds and senior forward Ellis Throckmorton had seven as Bangor finished with a 31-25 advantage on the backboards that proved to be close enough to a standoff for Hampden.
“All we talked about all week was defense and then finishing the possession with a box-out,” said McCue. “They’re a physical team, I’ve got to give them that. They rebound really well, so we thought if we could outrebound them we’d have a good chance to win.”
The first half featured 10 lead changes, the last one when Gilpin made a baseline jumper with 2:43 left in the first half to give Hampden a 21-20 advantage. Teammate Matt Palmer followed 30 seconds later with a baseline drive that gave the Broncos a three-point intermission edge.
Hampden’s lead grew to 25-20 in the opening moment of the second half when Palmer drove into the lane and fed Poirier for a layup, but Bangor then scored nine consecutive points — seven by Lewis — to take its four-point advantage.
Throckmorton made a jumper from near the free-throw line to start that run, then Lewis took over. First he took a steal in for a layup, then he blocked a Gilpin shot, tracked down the rebound near midcourt and induced a goaltending call against Hampden at the other end. Finally he made a 3-pointer from the left side of the key to give Bangor a 29-25 edge with 5:06 left in the third period.
But Hampden quickly clawed back behind Gilpin, who made a 3-pointer after an offensive rebound by Poirier, a left-side jumper off an assist from McCue and four free throws as the Broncos took a 37-34 lead into the fourth quarter.
“The key was not letting the game get to eight, because if it gets to eight it’s like 12 because it’s such a grinding game in the halfcourt and there’s not many runs,” said Bartlett. “They got ahead of us, but Zach hit a couple of shots to get us kick-started and then it was about making stop after stop after stop, and just making it tough for them to score. I thought we did a good job of that.”
Bangor (9-3) got as close as 40-39 when Lewis banked in a 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:23 to play, but those were the Rams’ last points.
McCue padded the Hampden lead by making two free throws with 5.2 seconds left before Bangor missed a halfcourt 3-pointer and a follow-up two-point try as time expired.