BANGOR, Maine — A lot of firsts were witnessed during high school basketball’s initial countable foray into the Cross Insurance Center on Friday night.
First basket? Hampden’s Zach Gilpin’s follow-up shot 40 seconds into the contest.
First 3-pointer? The Broncos’ Isaiah Bess, 20 seconds later.
First victory? That went to Hampden, too, as the defending Class A state champions eased to an 86-40 victory over a Brewer squad that is using the new facility as its home court this winter while renovations are being done at the high school.
Gilpin, a senior who earned first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine honors after leading the Broncos to the 2013 state crown, was instrumental in getting coach Russ Bartlett’s club off to a quick start this season en route to its 23rd consecutive victory.
The 6-foot-5 forward finished with game-high totals of 24 points and 12 rebounds in about 15 minutes of playing time, with 18 points and 10 boards coming during the first half as Hampden moved out to a 44-20 advantage.
“I thought we came out of the gate playing well,” said Gilpin, who shot 10 of 16 from the field overall. “Midway through the first quarter we got in a little slump but our defense carried us through that.”
Gilpin’s offense came in multiple forms — a 3-of-6 shooting effort from beyond the 3-point arc, several slashing drives to the basket and through some strong offensive rebounding work.
“Zach’s very versatile,” said Bartlett. “He can make the 3. He’s got a midrange pullup game that we didn’t even see tonight, and he can get to the rim. He offensive rebounded the ball a little better tonight and that’s been something he hasn’t been great at. I think he could be a lot better at that.”
And as if the excitement over playing in the new arena wasn’t enough for the crowd estimated at 2,300 at its peak, the game also featured Bess’ debut in a Hampden uniform.
The 6-foot-4 senior wing, who also earned first-team BDN All-Maine honors while leading Penquis Valley of Milo to the 2013 Class C state championship before transferring to Hampden this fall, contributed 11 points and five rebounds in his first Class A contest, again in limited minutes.
“Everyone moved the ball pretty well and got up and down the court,” said Bess, who became the answer to a Maine basketball trivia question as the only person to play in both the final countable high school game at the Bangor Auditorium (the 2013 Class C state final) and the first countable game at the Cross Center.
“So far it’s been pretty easy. Everyone’s helping me with the plays they ran last year and everyone’s really taken me under their wing. It’s making the transition from Penquis to Hampden so much easier.”
Bess struck early for the Broncos, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to go with seven quick points from Gilpin to help stake Hampden to a 15-6 lead four minutes into the game.
Hampden’s lead was 19-10 by the end of the period, and a left-handed drive by Bess then ignited a run of nine unanswered points by the Broncos at the outset of the second quarter that broke the game open.
“Isaiah played with a lot more urgency than I’ve seen so far, and that makes us a lot tougher to guard when he plays like that,” said Bartlett.
Sophomore Brendan McIntyre also had a big night for the Broncos, scoring 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while Deshaun Jones came off the bench to add 12 points.
And while Hampden was shooting 53 percent (29 of 55) from the field — thanks in great part to nine assists from sophomore guard Nick Gilpin — the Broncos’ defense limited a smaller Brewer club to just 20 percent (13 of 65) accuracy.
“I was real happy with our effort tonight,” said Bartlett. “Defensively I thought we played real hard. Our rotations were a little slow, but it’s early in the year.”
Junior forward Jared St. Thomas led Brewer offensively with 11 points while Carter Smith added 10. Sophomore forward Matt Pushard grabbed six rebounds for the Witches.