BANGOR, Maine — Basketball fundamentals often are lost amid the modern version of the sport that features offense dictated by the 3-point arc and steadily declining shooting percentages.
Long-range shooting did get the Penquis Valley boys basketball team off to a fast start Saturday night, but it was the Patriots’ defensive detail and ability to convert free throws that ultimately enabled them to strike gold.
Isaiah Bess scored 27 points and Trevor Lyford added 20 — including a 12-of-14 effort from the line in the fourth quarter — as Penquis outlasted Boothbay 61-54 to win the Class C state title in the final tournament game to be played at the Bangor Auditorium.
“We’d waited all year from last year when we lost to Lee Academy in the [Eastern Maine] semifinals,” said Bess, so it feels undescribable to come back and win a state championship here in the last year of the Mecca.”
The win also gives veteran Penquis coach Tony Hamlin not only his 401st career victory, but his alma mater’s first state title since 2000 when the Patriots also defeated Boothbay in the final.
“It’s really unbelievable,” said Hamlin, who is pondering retirement after a 31-year coaching career highlighted by three state titles overall, including a Class A crown in 1983 at South Portland.
“I’m having a hard time processing it because it’s so rare to get a gold ball. It’s really difficult, and for us at Milo it may be awhile before we get a chance to do it again. We felt this was the year if we were going to do it, and usually things don’t work out the way you want them to so I really feel fortunate about this.”
Andrew Hallinan paced Boothbay with 16 points while Anthony DiMauro added 15 as the Seahawks had their typical fast-breaking ways largely held in check.
“They played great defense, we couldn’t get into our offense at all,” said Boothbay coach I.J. Pinkham. “They took us right out of what we wanted to do. We’re a transition team and they got back, and when we have to run our halfcourt offense, we’re in trouble.”
Lyford and Bess combined to made 20 of 26 free throw tries overall, and the Patriots made 17 of 26 tries in the fourth quarter alone as Boothbay increased its defensive aggression in a bid to carve into a nine-point Penquis lead.
“I give coach a lot of credit,” said Lyford. We shot about 200 foul shots this week.”
Bess scored 12 points to lead Penquis to a 25-17 halftime advantage, with his four field goals coming on three 3-pointers and a monstrous two-handed dunk off a baseline drive.
Bess’ two-pointer was the exception to the norm early for the Patriots, whose first six baskets came from beyond the arc as they erased an early 5-0 Boothbay lead.
Cody Herbest added two 3-pointers while Lyford hit the sixth as Penquis shot 6 of 11 from long range over the top of Boothbay’s 2-3 zone during the first two periods.
“Coach had a bit of an idea that they might play zone so he stressed that in practice and were ready for it when we came out,” said Bess.
Penquis took the lead for good at 9-7 on a Herbest 3-pointer with 47 seconds left in the opening quarter, then Bess converted a four-point play after being fouled as he made his second 3-pointer to give the Patriots a 13-9 lead at the end of the period.
Penquis extended its first-half cushion to as much as 21-9 on its first two-pointer of the game, a low-post basket by Derrick Johnson that ended a 15-2 Patriots run with 5:36 left in the second quarter.
Lyford finished the half with four assists and four rebounds while holding DiMauro scoreless until he secured his only first-half points on a short jumper from the lane with 50 seconds left in the period.
Bess maintained the offensive intensity into the second half, scoring his team’s first six points — highlighted by a thunderous dunk off a backdoor pass from Lyford — to help Penquis stretch its lead back to 36-23 midway through the third quarter.
Penquis briefly switched to a 2-3 zone after Lyford picked up his third foul, and DiMauro was able to get untracked and score the final two baskets of the period to draw Boothbay within 40-31.
Lyford made six straight free throws early in the fourth quarter as Penquis pushed its lead to 47-34, but as the Patriots began to work on the clock Boothbay amped up its halfcourt defensive pressure and went on a 10-1 run to pull within 48-44 on a follow-up basket by DiMauro with 4:26 left.
Penquis made just 5 of its next 10 free throws to give Boothbay an additional opening, and the Seahawks got within 55-54 with 37.7 left on back-to-back 3-pointers by Hallinan.
Lyford then made two free throws before Bess stole the ball near midcourt and finished off the layup to give the Patriots a 59-54 cushion with 28 seconds remaining.