ELLSWORTH, Maine — There’s both give and take in Kyle Johnson’s brand of team defense, which the Ellsworth boys basketball team stunningly discovered Saturday night when the junior guard took the ball away and scored as time expired in overtime to give Calais a 62-60 victory at Katsiaficas Gymnasium.
Calais had the ball in its frontcourt in the final seconds but could not get off a shot before losing possession with time winding down.
Ellsworth gained control under the basket but Johnson came in from the blind side, stole the ball — his seventh takeaway of the contest — and laid it in just as the buzzer sounded.
“I knew they had to try to get it up the court fast and I read where their point guard was,” said Johnson. “I just tried to time the steal.
“It was just kind of a reaction to turn and take the shot.”
Several of Johnson’s steals came as Calais applied trapping defensive pressure while playing in come-from-behind mode for much of the evening.
“Kyle plays a lof of cheat defense so he had seven steals but he gives up 3-pointers on the weak side, too,” said Calais coach Ed Leeman. “That’s how he plays defense, it’s give and take with him. When we play man I try to settle him down more but when we’re halfcourt trapping I do let him loose a little bit and he anticipates very well. He’d make a great cornerback or free safety in football.”
Johnson also contributed a game-high 18 points and four assists, including six points during the overtime when Calais never led until the final nanosecond.
Nathan Newell added 16 points for the Blue Devils, now 3-0 in overtime games this season, while Cordell Hold scored 10 points and reserve guard Andre Paul pulled down a team-high six rebounds.
Nick Bagley led Ellsworth with 17 points, five during overtime. Griffin Nightingale added 12 points and nine rebounds, while Steven Mahon had 11 points and seven assists and Bruce St. Peter had nine points and seven rebounds.
Class C Calais, which had defeated Class B Ellsworth 57-33 on Jan. 8, survived in the rematch despite being outrebounded 30-18 and shooting just 11 of 23 from the free-throw line.
“It felt like we were playing uphill all night, but the beauty of it was our kids didn’t fold their tent,” said Leeman, whose 8-3 Blue Devils had lost two of their previous three games and faces another test at 9-2 Lee Academy on Monday. “I think we had opportunities to fold about six or seven times, but we just kept working. It will be nice to play from ahead once in a while.”
Bagley scored seven straight points during the final 50 seconds of the third quarter to give Ellsworth a 43-36 lead, but Calais opened the fourth with eight unanswered points, including a three-point play by Newell and a low-post jumper by Horace Diffin, to take a 44-43 edge.
Mahon gave Ellsworth a 53-52 lead on a layup that first trickled off the top of the backboard with 26 seconds left, then Paul made 1 of 2 free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining to force overtime.
Bagley’s shooting accuracy helped Ellsworth hold a 60-56 lead with just a minute left in overtime, but Paul again made 1 of 2 from the line and Johnson buried a 3-pointer from the right wing after an Eagles’ turnover with 42 seconds left.
The Calais defense then forced another Ellsworth turnover — the Eagles’ 21st of the game — setting up a final possession that didn’t turn out as planned but produced the exact result the Blue Devils wanted.
“It was one of those games you felt was going to come down to something like that,” said Leeman. “Nobody could really gain the momentum. But I thought we did a good job when they got up by seven in the second half of getting close enough to have a chance.”