BANGOR, Maine — Friday night’s game against Portland was admittedly a litmus test for the Bangor boys basketball team, and while it took a half to get into sync, the Rams ultimately passed in impressive fashion.
Overwhelmed physically for the first 16 minutes and trailing by 15 points at the break, coach Brad Libby’s club amped up the energy level and stunningly reversed the course of play by outscoring the Bulldogs 26-3 during the third quarter en route to a 64-58 victory in a pre-Christmas battle of Class AA unbeatens at Red Barry Gymnasium.
“Heart and intensity, that was the difference,” said Libby, whose team improved to 5-0 while Portland fell to 4-1. “We didn’t have much energy in the first half, we kind of backed off and weren’t the aggressors. We came out in the second half with a lot of intensity, a lot of heart and got to the rim, got to the middle of the floor and finished.
“The guys brought out all their intensity and if we can do that for four quarters we’re going to be a really good basketball team.”
Senior guard Damien Vance paced the Bangor offense with 26 points, 17 during the second half on an assortment of drives set up in part by backcourt mate Isaac Cummings’ three 3-pointers during an 81-second span early in the third quarter.
Cummings’ outburst was part of a 13-0 Bangor run to start the period that erased nearly all of Portland’s 39-24 halftime advantage.
“They double Matt (Fleming) every time he has the ball, but we have shooters and once Isaac hit those threes that opened me up,” said Vance, who also made all eight of his free throws. “We do really well at spreading the floor so we have lanes to drive.”
After Portland’s Griffin Buckley scored with 4:42 left in the period, Bangor scored 11 unanswered points to take its first lead since early in the opening quarter.
Junior forward Henry Westrich drove the baseline for a reverse layup and then buried a 3-pointer off an assist from Noah Missbrenner to give Bangor a 42-41 lead at the midpoint of the third. After two free throws and a left-handed drive by Vance, Fleming capped off the run with a follow-up shot to make it 48-41.
Another drive by Vance gave Bangor a 50-42 lead at the end of the quarter, and while Portland did rally as close as 61-58 on a second-chance basket by Jeremiah Alado with 1:29 to play, Bangor worked the clock down with Fleming making 1 of 2 from the line and Vance adding two more free throws with 24.2 seconds left to put the game away.
“I thought more than likely we’d be 4-0 coming into this game and this was going to be the test of whether we’d be a good team or we can be a great team,” said Fleming, the 6-foot-6 senior forward who finished with 17 points and six rebounds. “We showed tonight that we can be a great team.”
Westrich added 12 points, four blocked shots and a solid defensive effort against Portland point guard Pedro Fonseca, while Cummings had nine points and six rebounds.
Alado paced Portland with 15 points while Simon Chadbourne made 4 of 8 from 3-point land and finished with 14 points.
“This definitely is a measuring stick for us,” said Libby. “We come out and work hard every practice but I know the guys really wanted to get to this game, they had it circled on their calendar.
“Portland’s a perennial top dog, so they wanted to come out and send a message to the rest of the state that the Rams are here. We’re ready to go.”