Bangor’s head coach Brad Libby coaches his players during game action. Bangor High hosted Nokomis in the first game of the COVID-19 season at an empty Red Barry Gym Thursday night. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The Bangor and Brewer boys basketball teams had no difficulty generating intensity when the teams met at a virtually empty Red Barry Gymnasium on Monday night.

It is a rivalry, after all.

“We knew coming in that Brewer was probably the best team that we play all season, so we knew that we had to come in, bring our own energy and match their energy if not exceed it every single play,” Bangor senior forward Andrew Szwez said after the Rams’ 52-46 victory.

Class AA Bangor shaded Class A Brewer in this battle of unbeatens despite limited playing opportunities recently. The program was shut down for 10 days due to COVID-19 concerns before returning to action late last week with a win over Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor in just its second game of the winter.

“We had a couple of practices and a game last week, but the way that they were able to step on the floor and compete against an excellent Brewer team, I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Bangor coach Brad Libby said.

Landon Clark, a 6-foot-6 freshman forward, was perhaps the biggest difference-maker in this contest, scoring a game-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds and three blocked shots.

Each time Brewer began to rally, after Bangor scored 14 straight points to erase an early 5-3 deficit, Clark came up with big offensive possessions to help the Rams re-assert their lead.

“A lot of that is just the confidence my teammates and coach [Brad] Libby and all the coaches have in me,” he said. “They tell me all the time to shoot the ball, to be assertive, and I think that just speaks to me and it didn’t matter what the score was.”

The 15-year-old Clark has averaged 14.3 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals and one blocked shot during Bangor’s 3-0 start while shooting 58 percent from the field overall and 50 percent from the 3-point arc.

“As a freshman, Landon is special for sure,” Szwez said. “He’s definitely one of the best talents I’ve seen at that young of an age. He’s just got the killer instinct, you can’t teach that and he’s got it. When things get tough Landon’s always there. He shows up and hits the big shot.”

Another difference maker in this first matchup of the winter between the cross-river rivals was Bangor’s defense, which held Brewer nearly 30 points below its average of 75 points per game during its 4-0 start.

The Rams focused on denying the Witches free looks from the 3-point line and, as a result, Brewer did not make a single basket from beyond the arc.

Bangor also effectively defended Brewer’s dribble penetration, with guard Cabryn Streams inducing three player-control fouls to help the Rams maintain their lead.

“I kept telling everyone during timeouts that Brewer can score in a hurry,” said Libby, whose team is scheduled to play Friday night at Hermon. “If they hit two or three 3s in a row, that lead of 10 is now a tie ballgame, but we did a really good job of digging in and working on what we do every day in practice to come out of here with a ‘W.’”

Bangor built its early lead thanks in part to its strength on the backboards, outrebounding Brewer 21-12 during a first half that ended with the Rams leading 26-19.

“That’s one advantage I think we had, our height and our length,” Libby said. “We got after it on the offensive boards and really solidified defensive possessions with rebounds.”

The Rams also made 12 of 15 fourth-quarter free throws, including 9 of their last 10.

“Obviously we got shut down for two weeks so we didn’t get to practice, but coming into this game there couldn’t be any rust if we were going to beat Brewer,” Clark said. “We had to play well.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...