PORTLAND, Maine — Top-ranked Bangor made 10 of 13 free throws over the final four minutes of play to edge No. 2 Edward Little of Auburn 56-52 and capture the Class AA North boys basketball title at the Cross Insurance Arena.
The regional title is the first for Bangor since 2011, and the 19-2 Rams will face the winner of Friday’s late game, the Class AA South final between No. 1 Thornton Academy of Saco and No. 2 Bonny Eagle of Standish, for the state crown on Saturday, March 2 in Portland.
“At the end of the day whoever wanted it more was going to win,” said first-year Bangor coach Brad Libby. “The defense was there the whole game, they never gave up, and you could tell from the opening tip that they wanted this game bad.”
Edward Little, the defending state champion, ends its season at 18-3.
Senior forward Matt Fleming paced Bangor with 27 points and 11 rebounds and was named winner of the George Vinall Award as the Class AA North tournament’s outstanding player-sportsman.
The Rams’ Mr. Basketball semifinalist made five 3-pointers in the first three quarters, then converted the game’s pivotal three-point play with 3:52 to play after Edward Little had cut a 15-point third-quarter deficit to two points.
“He’s a special player,” Libby said. “Five minutes into the second half one of the assistant coaches looked at me and said, ‘We’re not going to lose this game because Matthew Fleming won’t let us.’ You could look into his eyes and see that he was not going to let us lose this game.”
Senior guards Damien Vance and Isaac Cummings added 12 and 10 points, respectively, for the Rams.
Senior forward Wol Maiwen, another Mr. Basketball semifinalist, led Edward Little with 23 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots while Max Creaser added 19 points, 15 in the second half.
Bangor led 34-19 after a Vance 3-pointer to open the second half, but EL rallied behind the offense of Creaser and Maiwen and suffocating pressure defense to get within 44-42 on two Maiwen free throws with 5:01 left in the game.
When Vance drew his fifth foul nine seconds later, the Rams were in trouble.
“That was our chance,” said Edward Little coach Mike Adams.
But instead Bangor kept EL at bay with stout defense and big-time free-throw shooting.
Bangor scored just one more basket the rest of the way, when Fleming drove to the basket and was hit by two defenders before converting what became a 3-pointer that extended Bangor’s lead back to 47-42 with 3:52 left.
“I knew we needed a basket at that point,” Fleming said. “We had gotten away from our game plan a little bit and wasn’t getting as many touches, so when I got it I wanted to take it to the defense.
“I think that basket calmed us down.”
Fleming’s play ignited a 10-1 Bangor run that gave the Rams a 54-43 cushion with 1:34 to go as the Rams’ defense was holding EL without a field goal for more than 5 minutes.
“I have all the trust in the world in these guys, and that if it wasn’t someone’s night the next guy would stand up. I’m just so proud of these guys and how they they stuck together,” Libby said.
“Edward Little’s a great team and they stuck together and made a great run to get it to two, but we stuck together, too, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Fleming scored 18 points in the first half as Bangor built a 31-19 lead.
The 6-foot-6 senior forward, who plans to continue his career on scholarship at Army next year, did most of his offensive work from the perimeter, converting 4 of 6 3-point tries in the opening two quarters.
Bangor never trailed in the first half, with Fleming opening the game with a one-on-one post move against Maiwen and following two Noah Missbrenner free throws with a shot from the baseline to give the Rams a 6-0 lead.
Maiwen scored five points as Edward Little hung within 13-7 by the end of the first quarter.
Bangor opened the second quarter much like it began the first, this time scoring the first seven points of the period — including a fast-break runner and a 3-pointer by Fleming to stretch its lead out to 20-7 and force an Edward Little timeout two minutes into the period.
EL came out of the break with an 8-0 run of its own, a surge capped off by a steal and thunderous dunk by Maiwen to pull the Red Eddies within 20-15 with 3:17 left before intermission.
Bangor soon began to solve EL’s diamond-and-one defensive pressure, scoring nine consecutive points to build its lead back to 31-17 on one 3-pointer by Cummings and two more from long range by Fleming.