By Ernie Clark
Such is the high-rent district the Hampden Academy boys basketball program has existed in for the last decade or so, that any defeat the Broncos experience is big news throughout eastern Maine.
Coach Russ Bartlett’s club suffered its first loss of the season — ending a streak of 30 consecutive regular-season victories — on Tuesday night in a 59-55 decision at Cony of Augusta.
A big third quarter enabled Cony (4-5) to take control as the Rams used their 3-point shooting and full-court defense to generate 24 points and build a 49-41 lead.
“It was a really good win and much needed,” said Cony coach T.J. Maines. “I thought the third quarter was huge for us. We were down nine at the six-minute mark then outscored them 24-7 the rest of the quarter and turned them over seven times.”
The Rams made six 3-pointers during that decisive stretch and 10 of 23 attempts from long range for the game.
“I felt like we did a great job taking care of the ball only turning it over 15 times versus their pressure,” said Bartlett. “But we didn’t defend well in the third quarter with them scoring 24 points and that really came back to hurt us along with free throws.”
Hampden made just 8 of 19 attempts from the free-throw line.
“I felt like Cony played very well and made one more play then we did down the stretch to win the game,” said Bartlett. “Sometimes you just need to tip your hat to the other team and realize on that particular night they were better than you.”
Few basketball fans expected this year’s Hampden team with just two seniors on its roster and a starting lineup of two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman to go unbeaten, but even with the loss the second-ranked Broncos remain among the elite in Class A North.
“To be 8-1 with this group at the halfway point, I’m very happy,” said Bartlett. “We just need to realize the importance of trying to get better every day so in February we are playing our best basketball.”
From corn fields to Cony
The Cony High School boys basketball team’s use this season of offensive and defensive philosophies developed by high-scoring Grinnell (Iowa) College is no coincidence.
Cony coach T.J. Maines and Grinnell head coach David Arsenault are both graduates of and former basketball players at Colby College in Waterville.
“We started implementing it this summer,” said Maines. “Coach Arsenault, the innovator of this, was a big help as he sent me notes and videos on the system.”
The premise of the Grinnell system, said Maines, is to attack relentlessly at both ends of the court with a heavy reliance on 3-point shots and mass substitutions in 45-second-to-1-minute intervals in order to maintain a frenetic pace.
“Doing it this summer, the kids bought in,” said Maines. “It fits our personnel as we have very little size but plenty of athletes. We also have some kids who can shoot it and a couple of very good point guards.
“We have had growing pains as we’ve adjusted. Before Christmas we had three games where we took 50-plus 3’s. That was too many and since then we have settled between 26 and 40 as a good number.”
Maines said his team’s success in running the Grinnell system depends on several factors, including not fouling in the backcourt while applying full-court defense and putting the opposition on the free-throw line.
“The foul line hurts us in two ways,” he said. “They get free points and a chance to rest.”
Other factors include rebounding one-third of their own missed shots — 3-pointers often produce long rebounds — and creating a pace that enables the Rams to generate at least 60 field-goal attempts in a game.
“Our best players have bought into the subbing,” said Maines. “They are finding they can get more shot attempts. The other bonus is every kid plays, therefore it is easy to be a great teammate. Team morale even after a loss has been good. We are enjoying it and hope to continue to improve upon it.”
Grinnell College is 7-4 this season while averaging 118 points per outing.