ORONO, Maine — The Penquis Valley boys basketball team is learning that opponents are becoming more and more determined to focus their defensive attention on its two top scoring threats, sophomores Isaiah Bess and Trevor Lyford.
That means for the Milo-based Patriots to maintain staying power near the top of the Eastern Maine Class C standings, other players must rise to the offensive occasion.
Albert Smith, a 6-foot-3 senior center, was the difference maker for coach Tony Hamlin’s club Wednesday evening, scoring a career-high 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds as Penquis rebounded from its first loss of the season with a 62-44 victory over Orono.
Smith made 8 of his 12 shots from the field, nearly all from within 5 feet of the basket, in helping the Patriots improve their record to 8-1.
“Albert’s a big kid, and he’s got a soft touch inside so when we get him the ball he does a pretty good job of finishing around the rim,” said Bess.
Bess, shadowed throughout the game by Orono’s Chris St. Peter while the rest of the Red Riots employed a four-man zone defense, managed just six field-goal attempts but still finished the night with 14 points, nine rebounds and six steals.
“Every night he sees a triangle-and-two or box-and-one,” said Hamlin. “Isaiah likes the ball in his hands, but he was patient tonight.”
Lyford added 12 points, eight in the third quarter as Penquis outscored Orono 15-6 to stretch a six-point halftime advantage to 49-34 entering the final period.
Senior forward Tyler Eddy had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Orono, which fell to 6-4 after suffering its third straight defeat. Junior guard Corey Riemersma came off the bench to score 10 points.
“We were down six at the half with six missed foul shots and three missed layups. We could have been up at the half,” said Orono coach Jason Coleman. “The kids competed hard. We knew going in we had to give a valiant effort to keep it close and we did for three quarters.”
Orono, undefeated in its first five home games this season, hung with Penquis throughout the opening half as Riemersma scored 10 points and Eddy had nine before intermission.
But Smith made the Red Riots pay for its four-man zone, working effectively behind the Orono defense to amass 12 points and seven rebounds in the first two quarters as Penquis moved out to a 34-28 lead.
“That’s a problem with going to a junk defense,” said Coleman. “Rebounding becomes suspect at times and they made plays when they had to.”
Penquis amped up its own defense after intermission at Hamlin’s urging and limited Orono to 16 points over the final two periods while forcing 14 Red Riot turnovers.
Bess was able to hold Eddy — Orono’s leading scorer — without a point for the first six minutes of the third quarter as the Patriots built a double-digit lead. After Eddy made a three-point play and a jumper on back-to-back possessions to keep the Red Riots within 51-39 two minutes into the final period, he did not score again.
“Trevor’s our best defender, but he had three fouls,” said Bess. “So I told coach at halftime that I’d guard [Eddy], and I thought I did a pretty good job.”
Orono then resorted to full-court defensive pressure in an attempt to spark a late rally, but Penquis countered with nine unanswered points — two Smith layups around a 3-pointer by Lyford and a layup by Cody Herbest — to stretch its lead out to 60-39 with 2:31 left.