BANGOR, Maine — Penquis Valley coach Tony Hamlin has been around long enough to recognize when his team is outmanned.
With his team dealing with foul trouble, veteran Lee Academy coach Randy Harris knew enough not to push his luck against a Hamlin-coached squad.
The result was nearly two full overtimes worth of holding the basketball and watching the clock run. In the end, it was a free throw that decided the outcome.
D.J. Johnson made the first of a two-shot foul situation with 5.8 seconds left in the second overtime Friday, giving top-seeded Lee Academy a 51-50 victory over No. 4 Penquis of Milo in an Eastern Maine Class C boys basketball semifinal at the Bangor Auditorium.
“I just knew we needed one. Two would be prime, but we needed to get one,” said Johnson, who poured in a game-high 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
The 18-2 Pandas take on No. 7 Houlton (11-10) in Saturday’s 8:35 p.m. regional championship game at the Auditorium. Penquis finishes at 18-3.
The contest featured some extremes.
Lee used a 15-0 run to build a 37-23 advantage midway through the third quarter, only to watch Penquis rattle off 14 unanswered points during a 22-2 surge that gave the Patriots a 45-39 lead with 4:44 left in regulation.
The Pandas regained their composure down the stretch, but Isaiah Bess (24 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals) make two foul shots with 13.1 seconds to play to send the game into overtime tied 49-49.
“I’m proud of those kids because they worked their butts off,” Hamlin said. “They played a team that’s more talented than they are but they kind of just played ‘D’ and gritted it out.”
The teams traded foul shots in the first extra frame, before Lee decided to hold the ball against Penquis’ 2-3 zone.
Each coach had a rationale for making the moves he did.
Lee didn’t want to risk further fouls.
“Boubacar (Diallo) had four fouls, D.J. had four fouls,” Harris explained. “That’s our two leading scorers, probably our two best players. I said, ‘we’re going to get the last shot to win it. We don’t want to have to play defense and have one of those guys get a fifth foul and be done.”
Hamlin, whose team had its hands full trying to contain the Pandas, chose the path of least resistance.
“I’d rather play a good team 30 seconds than four minutes,” Hamlin said.
“We saved our legs, stayed back and I said we’ll play it for the last 30 seconds and see if we can win it. It wasn’t to be.”
The Pandas eventually turned the ball over with 4.5 seconds left on an out-of-bounds violation along the end line. Bess subsequently got a decent look for Penquis, but his 18-footer glanced off the rim at the buzzer.
Lee again won the tip in the second OT and held the ball until Johnson missed in the lane and Bess rebounded with 15 seconds remaining. However, Lee’s Jasil Elder made a clutch steal and Johnson got to the line where he made the eventual game-winner.
Diallo rose above the crowd to snatch the offensive rebound and Lee called timeout, only to have Bess steal the ensuing inbounds pass and miss a 30-foot runner as time expired.
“We thought we were just going to try to grind it out until the end, but they fought back, they got a lot of rebounds,” Johnson said. “It was quite the game.”
Elder contributed 10 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a blocked shot for the Pandas. Diallo posted 10 points, seven boards and three steals.
Bess paced Penquis with 24 points, eight rebounds and five steals while Trevor Lyford tossed in 17 points.