BANGOR — The roots of motivation can have different sources, sometimes emotional and sometimes strategic.
The Lee Academy boys basketball team found renewed spirit in both places at the Bangor Auditorium on Saturday night to rally past Houlton 58-47 and win its second consecutive Eastern Maine Class C championship.
Sophomore guard Boubacar Diallo scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half as Randy Harris’ top-ranked Pandas (19-2) outscored Houlton 38-22 after intermission to advance to a state-final rematch against Dirigo of Dixfield (20-1) next Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.
Lee won the 2011 meeting to earn its first Class C state title.
“Energy was the difference in the second half,” said Lee senior guard Jasil Elder, a veteran of last year’s state championship run. “We played better defense and we crashed more to the rebounds on the offense and defensive ends. Everyone’s intensity was better in the second half, everyone just turned it up.”
Seventh-seeded Houlton ends its season at 11-11.
“We started the season 2-5,” said Shiretowners’ coach Rob Moran. “If you had told me then we were going to be in the Eastern Maine final and have a lead in the fourth quarter I’d have said you were nuts, but these kids worked their tails off. I didn’t think we played bad defense tonight, but Lee’s athleticism hurt us.”
Houlton held a 25-20 halftime lead as Bouchard scored 10 of his team-high 20 points and senior guard Doug Dickison added eight of his 13 points.
But it was the Shiretowners’ final basket of the half, when Daniel Swallow went to the floor to tip a loose ball to freshman standout Kyle Bouchard on the left wing for an open 3-pointer, that shaped a fiery halftime speech by Lee coach Randy Harris.
“We didn’t defend like we normally do, we didn’t get after rebounds,” said Harris. “I told the kids at halftime the stereotypical play of the first half was a loose ball on the floor, they dive and tip it to Bouchard for a three and it’s 25-20 at the half. Why weren’t there any (Lee) shirts on the floor?
“So we had a come-to-you-know-what session at the half and I told the guys, ‘If we’re going to lose I have no problem with that, but it better be with you giving your best effort and going down fighting in the second half and not standing around.
“Our effort picked up, and it made a big difference.”
Lee derived even more energy by turning to a trapping 1-3-1 halfcourt zone defense after the break to increase the pace of the game.
“Our team loves to run that halfcourt trap,” said Lee senior D.J. Johnson, who finished with 12 points. “That gets everybody going. When we start getting steals and fast-break layups, that pumps everybody up.”
Diallo was the chief offensive beneficiary of that defensive pressure, scoring 11 points in the third quarter to keep the Pandas close, then adding 10 more points during the final period as Lee finally assumed control.
“Our defense makes our offense, and our defense was very good in the second half,” said Diallo. “We put our press on and they couldn’t handle it and we got layup after layup. That’s all it was.”
And when Lee wasn’t making its initial shots, it often was getting second and even third chances — the Pandas outrebounded Houlton 25-9 in the second half, including 13-4 during the fourth quarter.
“What it came down to was their athleticism in the fourth quarter,” said Moran. “You can tell guys to box out, but when you’ve got a 5-8 guy trying to box out a 6-foot guy who’s 30 pounds bigger and much more athletic, it’s easy to say but tough to do. We boxed out guys on several occasions and they just jumped over us.”
Still the Shiretowners didn’t go away quietly, scoring the final five points of the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Kyle Buzzeo and two free throws by Bouchard to regain the lead at 38-35.
But Lee countered with seven unanswered points at the outset of the fourth quarter to take the lead for good as Haris Karagic took a pass from Johnson in for a three-point play, Diallo scored after grabbing an offensive rebound and Johnson converted a layup off a feed from Diallo.
Houlton still was within 48-45 on a jumper from the lane by Bouchard with 3:55 left, but Diallo scored the game’s next six points, all stemming from plays in the lane, to extend the Lee advantage to 54-45 with 1:41 remaining.
“I had a migrane headache from screaming ‘we’re jackiing threes, we’re jacking threes, we’re jacking threes, and that’s why teams play a 2-3 zone against us,’” said Harris, whose team was 1 for 11 from beyond the arc. “But we finally got a couple good looks down low and some and-ones and finally got in a good flow where we stopped shooting threes and started attacking the basket.”