HERMON — The Lee Academy boys basketball team has used different means to compile an impressive record this winter.
Some nights high-scoring offense has been the key to success, other nights it’s been lockdown defense. Some nights it’s been both.
On Thursday night the Pandas had to grind their way to victory, overcoming their own turnovers early in the game and hot perimeter shooting by Hermon late in the contest to hold off the Hawks 58-52.
Senior guard D.J. Johnson scored 11 of his team-high 16 points in the fourth period to lead Lee to its 13th consecutive victory. The Pandas, now 16-1, are ranked first in Eastern Maine Class C.
“(Hermon) makes it tough because they’re a really good shooting team and they set a lot of screens that the defenders are always are trying to work through so it tires you out,” said Johnson.
The Class B Hawks (6-9) were within 46-44 with three minutes remaining and nearly regained possession when the ball got loose in the Lee frontcourt.
But the Pandas got it back, and Dustin Sawtelle dribbled to the left baseline and passed the ball across the lane and out to Johnson on the perimeter, from where the senior guard buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Pandas some breathing room, up by five with 2:57 left
“Dustin drove baseline, and they had been taking a lot of charges on us but he made a real smart play and swung it opposite,” said Johnson. “Luckily I knocked down the shot because we really needed it.”
After Hermon’s Braddock Deabay missed a 3-point try, Johnson scored again on a runner from the lane to extend Lee’s advantage to 51-44 with 2:12 remaining.
“I knew that we needed a spark at the end of the game,” said Johnson, “so coach (Randy Harris) said keep shooting when I was open and keep trying to get to the bucket and get to the foul line.”
Boubacar Diallo then drove the lane for a basket to give Lee a nine-point cushion with 1:13 remaining.
Diallo came off the Lee bench to add 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while Sam Brown contributed nine points and Jasil Elder had eight points and seven rebounds.
Tyler Thayer led Hermon with 17 points — 12 in the final period — along with five assists while Deabay had 15 points and six rebounds and Fritz Marseille scored 10 points.
Neither team managed more than a five-point lead during the first half, which ended with Lee holding a 23-20 lead despite 10 turnovers and foul trouble that limited the minutes of 6-foot-4 senior forward Haris Karagic.
Hermon scored the first six points of the second half to take a 26-23 lead, as Marseille scored an inside basket and then took a steal in for a layup before Joey Martin converted a give-and-go pass from Thayer with 5:48 left in the third period.
Lee responded with 11 unanswered points to take a 34-26 lead on a drive by Diallo with 2:32 left in the period. Diallo had six points during that run to go with a fast-break drive by Elder and a 3-pointer by Brown.
Brown followed with a second 3-pointer to give the Pandas their largest lead at 37-28 with 12 seconds to play in in the quarter, but Matt Merchant — one of three Hermon seniors honored before their final home game — beat the buzzer with a baseline drive to ignite an 11-4 run that drew the Hawks within 41-39 on a pullup jumper by Jacob Rioux with 5:03 left in the game.
After Elder answered with a follow-up basket, Deabay scored from beyond the arc to draw Hermon within 43-42, but Johnson went inside to convert a three-point play off a Sawtelle inbounding pass to restore Lee to a four-point edge with 4:48 remaining.
Thayer then made two free throws to make it a 46-44 game with 3:20 to play.