BANGOR, Maine — Freshman guard Jackson Mathers is a 90 percent free-throw shooter and he hasn’t let the pressure of the Eastern Maine Class D tournament bother him.
Mathers sank eight of his nine free throw attempts, including four in overtime, as the Southern Aroostook High School boys basketball survived dynamic Jake Rioux’s game-high 27 points to beat Van Buren 49-45 in their semifinal at the Cross Insurance Center on Thursday afternoon.
Fifth-seeded Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook (14-6) will take on No. 3 Hodgdon (17-3) in Saturday’s 10:45 a.m. title game.
“I should have made them all but I made the majority of them and it was enough to help win the game,” said Mathers. “I try not to think about being nervous. I just step up and take them.”
Mathers was fouled firing up a 3-pointer with 2:32 left in overtime and sank all three free throws to open the scoring in the four-minute overtime and give his Warriors a lead they would never relinquish.
Cameron Landry extended the lead to 46-42 with a free throw with 1:06 remaining before Rioux banked home a 3-pointer 18 seconds later to pull the Crusaders within one.
Mathers made another free throw three seconds later and that is the way the score remained until Cody Lassonde grabbed a loose ball and fed a long pass to Nolan Altvater for a game-clinching layup with 2.6 seconds left.
The Warriors had a 40-36 lead with 55.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter and had the ball. But they committed a foul on the inbounds pass and Rioux nailed a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left to slice the lead to one.
“[Rioux] scared me to death,” said Southern Aroostook coach Bill McAvoy. “Normally you don’t want to go into overtime having given a lead away but it worked out for us.”
Mathers hit a pair of free throws with 34.4 seconds remaining but Rioux tied it dramatically with a 3 from the left corner with two seconds remaining.
Even though Rioux poured in his 27, the Warriors used an aggressive 3-2 zone to make him work for his points.
“We tried to keep him out of the middle because he can create a lot when he drives the middle. He can score or pass it to someone and they have guys who can finish,” said Cameron Landry, who had 18 points, four rebounds and three steals.
“They doubled me a lot and that made it pretty tough,” said Rioux. “I tried to take good shots. I made a few big shots. They were aggressive and made their free throws and that’s what did it at the end.”
Mathers finished with 18 points and he also had two assists.
Southern Aroostook used its superior size to its advantage, outrebounding Van Buren 37-26 and generating a bunch of second-chance points.
Altvater had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Lassonde contributed seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Rioux had three assists and three steals to go with his 27 points.
Andre Rossignol had eight points, three assists and two steals and Paul Rioux had a game-high 13 rebounds for the Crusaders.
Van Buren wound up 12-9.
“We got down at the end and needed to foul them and they made their foul shots,” said Van Buren coach Steve Lapierre. “They’re a good-sized team and they’re very athletic. But we did what we could. I’m proud of the boys. Nobody expected us to get this far.”