ELLSWORTH, Maine — There weren’t a lot of surprises when the Mount Desert Island boys basketball team trekked to Katsiaficas Gymnasium on Saturday night to renew its rivalry with Ellsworth.
MDI entered the game ranked fifth in Eastern Maine Class B, one spot ahead of Ellsworth, and the Trojans maintained that edge in the Heal point ratings by taking ever-so-slight control after a stalemated first half to secure a 58-52 victory.
“We knew what they were going to do for the most part, and we know it’s always going to be a close game when we play them,” said MDI senior forward Abe Philbrook. “In the first half we were a little skittish, we weren’t really running through our offense, we weren’t trusting it. But in the second half we slwed it down and got some good looks and turned it around.”
Senior guard Jon Phelps led the 6-2 Trojans with 21 points and six rebounds, while Philbrook scored 13 points and center Andrew Davis shook off foul trouble to contribute 11 points and 12 rebounds.
“We’re getting there,” said MDI coach Justin Norwood, who has guided his program to the Eastern Maine championship game each of the last two seasons. “We’ve got a long way to go, but tonight was a huge win. We’ve yet to put a 32-minute game together, but this was a big, gutsy win.”
Griffin Nightingale came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points for 4-3 Ellsworth, while Bruce St. Peter had eight points and six rebounds and Nick Bagley also scored eight points.
Coach Peter Austin’s Eagles forged a 25-25 halftime tie largely through a 5-of-12 shooting effort from beyond the 3-point arc, with three of the long strikes coming on inside-out passes from the low post and a fourth coming after one of MDI’s 10 early turnovers.
But MDI’s defense was more effective in maintaining contact with the Ellsworth marksmen after intermission, limiting the Eagles to a 4-of-13 effort from long range.
“We know they’re a great 3-point shooting team, they had nine threes in their last game,” said Philbrook. “We tried to identify the shooters coming in and we did a pretty good job for the most part.”
Ironically, MDI took the lead for good early in the third quarter on back-to-back 3-pointers by Phelps and Philbrook. Both came off passes from Steven Hanscom, who chipped in with five points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Phelps’ 3-pointer after an offensive rebound by Hanscom gave the Trojans a 29-27 edge, and Philbrook followed from long range 75 seconds later to give MDI a five-point edge midway through the period.
MDI made just three 3-pointers during the game.
“We shoot threes, but we like to drive and make them foul and we were able to do that,” said Phelps, whose team outscored Ellsworth 15-3 from the free-throw line.
Ellsworth did maintain contact the rest of the way, getting as close as 42-41 on a baseline drive by Nightingale with 5:48 left in the game.
But Phelps then converted a fast-break three-point play and another free throw on MDI’s next possession to stretch the lead back to 46-41, and Davis later took a press-breaking halfcourt pass from Hanscom in for a layup and added another close-range shot to make it 50-44 with 3:15 left.
The lead was still six points with 1:30 remaining when MDI came up with its biggest defensive stop of the night, a 41-second Ellsworth possession that ended with the Trojans coming up with an errant pass and freshman Riley Swanson making two free throws to extend the Trojans’ advantage to 55-47 with 49 seconds left.
“We did a good job of knowing what they were running, got right to where we were supposed to and closed out to who we wanted to close out to,” said Norwood. “I was really happy with that one.”