HAMPDEN, Maine — Adversity, like many other things in life, is in the eye of the beholder, but for the undefeated Hampden Academy boys basketball team adversity came in the form of a rare one-point halftime deficit Friday night.
But the Broncos, who entered their game against Brunswick having blown away their first nine opponents this winter by an average of 28.3 points per contest, responded to the challenge as might be expected from a team that is now 30-2 since the start of the 2011-12 season.
Senior forward Matt Palmer opened the second half with two 3-pointers that immediately erased the deficit, and junior forward Zach Gilpin scored 15 of his game-high 22 points after intermission as Hampden pulled away to a 55-43 victory over the stubborn Dragons in their lone meeting of the season.
“I think we needed to be tested like this, so it was a great win for us,” said Gilpin. “We faced some adversity tonight being down by one at the half, but I thought we responded well. That 13-point swing in the second half was good for us.”
Hampden (10-0) is now the lone remaining unbeaten team in Eastern Maine Class A after Lawrence of Fairfield knocked off previously unbeaten Edward Little of Auburn 67-53, also on Friday night.
Maintaining that unblemished record wasn’t easy against a Brunswick team that is now 6-4 and whose losses have come to teams — Hampden, EL, Lawrence and Bangor — with a combined 34-5 record.
Hampden found itself trailing the Dragons 24-23 at the break thanks to an unusually cool shooting effort (28 percent) from the field during the first two periods along with 13 first-half points by Brunswick junior guard Blake Gordon.
But the Broncos returned to the court for the second half with heightened intensity and better aim, as Palmer made a pair of 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions within the first 69 seconds of the third quarter — the second igniting an 11-0 run that gave Hampden a 37-26 lead on two free throws by Gilpin with 4:33 left in the period.
Gordon finally countered for Brunswick with a follow-up basket, but Gilpin then converted a three-point play off a lobbed inbounding pass to the rim by Palmer and junior point guard Cam Scott followed with a jumper to give the Broncos a 42-28 cushion with 1:06 remaining in the quarter.
After shooting 8 of 28 from the field in the first half, Hampden was a crisp 7 of 11 in the third period.
“I thought the big difference in the third quarter was they started to make shots,” said Brunswick coach Todd Hanson. “The disappointing part was I thought we didn’t guard them as well as we did in the first half, and if you give a team open looks they’re going to make you pay and ultimately we dug ourselves too big a hole to get out of.”
Brunswick did creep within 42-34 on a 3-pointer by Gordon 55 seconds into the final period, but Gilpin answered with a four-point play — he was fouled while making a tough baseline jumper, and added that free throw as well as the first of two additional free throws when Brunswick was whistled for a technical foul on the play.
That sequence gave Hampden a 46-34 lead, and Brunswick got no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“We talked at halftime about how we would respond to the adversity, and would we be hungry or would there be infighting and un-organization,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “But the kids came out with a lot of energy and I was real happy with our response.”
Gilpin shook off a 5-of-17 night from the field by making 11 of his 15 free-throw attempts en route to his scoring total, while Palmer finished with 11 points and senior forward Tyler Norris had 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Gordon led Brunswick with 18 points and nine rebounds, but he managed just five points on 2-of-9 shooting after intermission against Scott’s perimeter defensive pressure.
“I think we talked more on defense in the second half and closed out on their shooters better,” said Gilpin. “I thought Cam did a much better job on Gordon in the second half.”