George Stevens Academy has undergone pretty much a complete roster overhaul since winning its third straight Class C basketball state championship in 2018.
Two key ingredients remain. Caden Mattson and the Eagles’ commitment to relentless trapping defense.
Mattson set the tone with his tireless hustle, disruptive hands and attacking offensive style on Tuesday, sparking No. 4 GSA to a 67-39 Class C North quarterfinal victory over No. 5 Fort Fairfield at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“As the leader of this team, I’ve kind of been able to motivate my teammates,” Mattson said of setting the defensive tone. “They want to score. They know if we play good ‘D,’ they’re going to get a fast-break layup.”
Coach Duane Dwayne Carter’s ballclub (18-2) wore down the Tigers to earn a spot in Friday’s 7 p.m. semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s game between No. 1 Central Aroostook of Mars Hill and No. 9 Stearns of Millinocket.
Fort Fairfield closed out the season at 13-7.
Mattson, a 6-foot senior guard, poured in a game-high 25 points, pulled down 13 rebounds and made eight steals to go with a handful of assists in a well-rounded performance that set the tone for his team.
David Gadsby tossed in 14 points, Milos Sujica tallied nine with six rebounds and Teague Smallidge finished with seven points and 10 rebounds. Gadsby, Mike Moon and Austin Snow excelled in GSA’s 1-3-1 three-quarter-court trapping press that harassed Fort Fairfield into many of its 31 turnovers.
The Eagles took advantage of numerous miscues by attacking in transition and getting easy baskets or getting to the foul line.
GSA led 26-18 at halftime, then pulled away in the third quarter. The Eagles put together an extended 22-5 run that included nine points from Mattson while turning a six-point lead into a 49-27 bulge early in the fourth.
The Tigers struggled with turnovers against the trapping and could not find any cohesiveness at the offensive end. They managed only five fieldl-goal attempts in the third quarter and had nine turnovers.
“We feel that our defense turns into offense,” Carter said. “We may not be the best half-court set team, but we might be the best defensive team to create our offense.”
Dawson Watson led a balanced effort for Fort Fairfield with 10 points. Kadin Barnes (8 rebounds, 3 blocked shots) and Chase Griffeth (4 rebounds) netted nine points each, while Colby Langner finished with eight points and six rebounds.