Keegan Gentle scored 18 points and senior guard Nolan Porter added 14 as No. 4 Houlton knocked off three-time defending state champion George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill 54-34 in Saturday night’s Class C North boys basketball final at the Cross Insurance Center.
Gentle, a junior guard, scored eight points in the second quarter and eight more in the fourth period as coach Tim Brewer’s fourth-seeded Shiretowners steadily pulled away from the third-ranked Eagles.
Porter shot 4 of 8 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I just like to shoot threes,” said Porter, a senior guard. “It fires me up and it fires everybody else up so I like to do it.”
That offense complemented a stout Houlton defense that allowed a George Stevens team that scored nearly 70 points per game this season to make just 13 field goals in 41 attempts, or 32 percent.
“We knew GSA was a good offensive team,” said Gentle, part of the Shiretowners’ defense that yielded 33.3 points per game in its three Bangor tournament appearances. “Our plan was to put ball pressure on them and make them feel a little nervous about our defense.”
The regional crown for Houlton is the first since it captured the 2014 Class C state championship, and it also ended a 15-game George Stevens tournament winning streak that dated back to a loss to Orono in the 2015 Eastern C quarterfinals.
“[George Stevens Academy] really had a hard time scoring on us,” Brewer said. “Then they started forcing some things, but credit to these kids. I couldn’t be more happy with the effort they put out, especially on the defensive side.”
Houlton (18-4) will face Winthrop in next Saturday’s 9 p.m. state final in Bangor. The 20-1 Ramblers won their second regional title in three years with a 61-41 victory over Hall-Dale of Farmingdale in the South final.
George Stevens, which got 14 points from senior forward Isaac Wardwell, ends its season at 18-4.
“We tried a bunch of different sets to get going but we just never could get into a flow,” George Stevens coach Dwayne Carter said. “Our outside shooting was off, everything around the rim was in and out. It just wasn’t our night.”
George Stevens got its toughest test in last year’s regional from an eighth-seeded Houlton club that battled the Eagles before dropping a 54-43 quarterfinal.
Last year’s disappointment became this year’s motivation for the Shiretowners.
“We felt really confident just because of the defense we’ve been playing,” Porter said. “We’ve really locked down on defense. We’re feeling good, we think we can guard any team right now.”
That defensive confidence was evident from the outset of the rematch as Houlton built a 25-15 halftime lead.
After spotting the Eagles two early baskets by Wardwell, Houlton took control with a fullcourt man-to-man defense that forced seven turnovers and limited George Stevens to 29 percent (6 of 21) shooting from the field during the rest of the half..
Two 3-pointers by Porter 17 seconds apart midway through the first quarter after a Houlton timeout not only got the Shiretowners on the scoreboard but stoked an 11-1 run that sent them to a 13-8 lead by the end of the opening quarter.
“We got out to a good start and then we missed our assignments and let Porter get open twice, and once they got rolling that was it because they shot really well,” said Carter of Houlton, which went on to shoot 48 percent (22 of 46) from the field for the game.
Houlton’s defense, meanwhile, rarely allowed an unchallenged offensive possession, and when Gentle made 4 of his 7 second-quarter shots, the Shiretowners were en route to a double-digit cushion at intermission.
“We were a little nervous starting off the game so we got a timeout and told them we just needed to settle down and run our stuff, we weren’t being aggressive,” Brewer said. “Then we hit a couple shots and broke the ice, and we settled in after that.”
After Wardwell netted a fall-away jumper to open the second half, Houlton limited the Eagles to one Reece Dannenberg 3-pointer over the next 5½ minutes while breaking the game open with a 13-3 run that included two more 3-pointers by Porter, propelling the Shiretowners to a 40-24 lead entering the final period.
“People really didn’t expect us to get this far, I think,” Carter said. “I knew we could. I’m disappointed that we didn’t play our best game tonight, but that happens.”