BANGOR, Maine — Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook ranks among the highest-scoring boys basketball teams teams statewide this winter, averaging nearly 75 points per game.
But as the top-ranked Warriors displayed during a 73-50 Class D North quarterfinal victory over No. 8 Greater Houlton Christian Academy at the Cross Insurance Center on Monday, that offensive might is based in significant part on defensive tenacity.
Coach Bill McAvoy’s club forced 21 first-half turnovers by the Eagles, which helped Southern Aroostook at one point score a remarkable 32 consecutive points while building a 49-15 halftime lead.
“I knew we had to come out and press them and that’s what we did, we forced turnovers,” said SACS guard Jackson Mathers, one of five starting seniors for the Warriors.
Not only was Mathers one of the defensive catalysts, he made GHCA pay at the other end with a blend of drives, 3-pointers and midrange floaters that produced 28 points overall, 23 in the first half on 10-of-14 shooting from the field.
Mathers’ primary inside complement and fellow 1,000-point scorer, senior center Nolan Altvater, added 20 points, 10 before intermission.
“‘I’ve got a great bunch of seniors, five of them, and I’ve had them for four years and they pretty well know what I expect out of them,” said McAvoy.
“I’ve got two exceptional kids in Mathers and Altvater and if those two guys — especially if Jackson is on — everyone else seems to play well around him.”
Southern Aroostook (18-1), which lost to Easton in last year’s Class D North final, faces No. 4 Central Aroostook of Mars Hill in Thursday’s 3:35 p.m. semifinal. The Panthers (13-6) topped No. 5 Jonesport-Beals 54-46 earlier Monday.
Greater Houlton Christian, which played as a separate entity this winter after fielding a cooperative team with East Grand of Danforth the previous two seasons, was within two points of Southern Aroostook at 10-8 after a free throw by Jed Grant late in the first quarter.
But Mathers made a follow-up shot, a pull-up 3-pointer and another second-chance basket in transition as Southern Aroostook closed out the period with nine straight points to build a 19-8 lead.
And the Warriors were just getting started, with pressure defense leading to easy offense during their 30-point second quarter.
Mathers scored 10 more points and senior guard Tyler Batchelder added eight as the Southern Aroostook lead grew to 42-8 before Austin Winslow ended GHCA’s six-minute scoreless drought with a three-point play with 3:23 left in the half.
“We press to get us going, that’s our biggest thing,” said McAvoy.
Sophomore center Isaac Potter led GHCA (10-9) with 14 points, while Winslow and Grant each scored nine.