Longtime Oxford Hills boys basketball coach Scott Graffam lamented his team’s recent offensive struggles as the Vikings warmed up for Tuesday night’s Class AA North road test against Bangor.
Graffam, who joined the 400-win club at the South Paris school earlier this season, needn’t have worried.
Junior guards Cole Pulkkinen and Elias Soehren combined for 47 points and Oxford Hills made 15 of its 16 fourth-quarter free-throw attempts to pull away to an 81-69 victory at Red Barry Gymnasium.
The win improves the Vikings to 9-3 on the season, while Bangor fell to 5-6 after absorbing its fifth straight defeat.
“They’re extremely good,” Bangor coach Brad Libby said of the Oxford Hills guard tandem. “They’re great at creating, they’re good at passing it in to the big guy [6-foot-10-inch senior center Colby Dillingham], and obviously down the stretch they finished with foul shots. They missed one shot in the fourth quarter and it ended up being an offensive rebound.”
Pulkkinen scored 13 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter, including a 9-of-10 effort from the foul line. Soehren scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half of the free-flowing contest.
Dillingham added 13 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots while Teigan Pelletier and Tanner Bickford scored eight points apiece for the Vikings.
Third-ranked Oxford Hills’ scoring total far exceeded its average of 47.1 points per game in their three previous outings, road losses to top-seeded Edward Little of Auburn and No. 2 Portland and a homecourt win last Saturday over Cheverus of Portland.
The 81 points allowed by fifth-seeded Bangor were the most given up by the Rams in a game so far this season.
“The first half we battled great, we had great gap defense and we battled the big guy inside,” Libby said. “In the second half, some of that got away from us. We gave up 48 points in the second half and for our style of basketball that’s unacceptable.”
Senior forward Colton Emerson paced Bangor with 19 points, 10 during the second quarter to help the Rams take a 34-33 into halftime.
Sophomore forward Landon Clark added 16 points and eight rebounds for Bangor while senior guard Ryan Howard had 12 points and senior forward Max Clark scored 10.
Bangor’s first-half success was fueled in part by 6-of-11 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc, with Emerson and Landon Clark making two apiece from long distance.
The Rams managed just two 3-pointers after the break.
Oxford Hills led 58-53 after Pulkkinen made his only 3-pointer of the night during the final seconds of the third quarter.
Emerson then followed in his own miss and Howard converted an Oxford Hills turnover into a three-point play to tie the game at 58-58 with 7:26 left.
The smooth-driving Pulkkinen scored six straight points with two forays to the basket and a pair of free throws to give the Vikings the lead for good at 64-58 with 6:07 to play.
Bangor twice rallied to within four points, the last time on a Max Clark jumper with 4:28 remaining, before a Pelletier layup and a drive by Bickford extended Oxford Hills’ advantage to 70-62 with 3:31 left.
That was the Vikings’ final field goal of the evening, but Pulkkinen made 7 of 8 free throws and Pelletier and Bickford added two free throws each to help Oxford Hills gradually stretch out its lead.
“Hat’s off to them, they did all facets of the game. They’re a really tough team,” Libby said. “But our kids battled. We’re a little inconsistent right now but playing hard. We’ll be there at the end of the year if we just continue to work in practice and battle.”