HAMPDEN, Maine — Very little has deterred the undefeated Hampden Academy boys basketball team so far this winter, so could a weeklong layoff and a high-quality opponent possibly curtail the undefeated Broncos’ momentum?
The answer was an unqualified no, as coach Russ Bartlett’s defending state champions extended their two-year winning streak to 37 games with a 78-48 victory over Messalonskee of Oakland in a matchup of Class A powers Tuesday night.
Senior forward Zach Gilpin worked successfully against Messalonskee’s 2-3 zone defense to lead the top-ranked Broncos — 15-0 this season — with game-high totals of 30 points and 19 rebounds. Hampden’s double-double machine scored 11 points in the first half and matched Messalonskee’s team output for the first two periods with 12 rebounds before intermission as Hampden built a 39-25 lead.
“Zach had a lot of baskets in the paint tonight,” said Bartlett, “and considering we haven’t seen much zone against us he did a good job playing behind the zone like we wanted him to.
“And on the shots he missed around the hoop he got his own rebounds and put them in. He was a man on the glass.”
Sophomore forward Brendan McIntyre added 16 points for Hampden, making the first six shots he took en route to a 14-point first half. The 6-foot-2-inch sophomore found early success inside the Messalonskee zone and later added two second-quarter 3-pointers that helped Hampden build an early lead of as many as 18 points.
“I started out with a couple of easy buckets down low and then really didn’t get much afterward, but then I had that one hot streak when my teammates kept getting me the ball with the open shot,” said McIntyre. “I thank them for that because that’s what coach always preaches, finding the open man, and that’s what they did for me tonight.”
Messalonskee (11-5), which entered the game ranked fourth in Eastern Maine Class A, showed its mettle at the outset of the second half, with Jordon Holmes scoring on a drive and feeding Ryan Erskine for a 3-pointer to draw the Eagles within 39-30.
But Messalonskee’s defense was unable to stop Hampden on enough successive possessions to draw closer.
After center Nick Mayo scored from the key to leave the Eagles within 41-32, senior wing Isaiah Bess took a Nick Gilpin feed and hit a left-side 3-pointer, then Zach Gilpin followed in his own miss to give Hampden a 46-32 cushion.
Messalonskee’s Eric Van Der Karr scored twice inside to cut the margin back to 10, but again Hampden answered with nine unanswered points, including a fast-break layup by Bess, a quarter-ending finger roll by Zach Gilpin that gave the Broncos a 52-36 lead and a three-point play inside by Gilpin off a McIntyre feed to push the lead to 55-36 63 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“That’s a great team and we wasted possessions to make it a single-digit game going into the fourth quarter,” said Messalonskee coach Pete McLaughlin. “We allowed them to get it back out to 16 again and we were constantly fighting that uphill battle.”
Bess, honored before the contest as a nominee for the McDonald’s All-American Game, scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed six rebounds for Hampden. Guards Nick Gilpin and Cam Scott each dished out six assists for the Broncos, who face another test Saturday afternoon when they host Oxford Hills of South Paris, the third-ranked team in Eastern A.
“It’s kind of tournament-like due to the fact that we just had a layoff like we’ll have in a week or so to prepare for one team, and then all of a sudden if you win you get to play another good team, so that’s what we’re looking at coming up with Oxford Hills after playing Messalonskee tonight,” said Bartlett. “We’ve had a week of preparation, and I was happy with the way we came out tonight.”
Van Der Karr led Messalonskee with 11 points while Holmes scored nine points and Mayo had eight.