Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Travis Lazarczyk email@example.com
OAKLAND — Mt. Ararat High School boys basketball coach Aaron Watson is getting married today. His team gave him a nice present Friday night.
Mt. Ararat led by as many as 14 points in the first half, then hung on, fighting off a Messalonskee rally to take a 57-54 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A win in the season opener for both teams.
“This was a pretty good wedding gift,” Watson said.
It was a gift that was almost returned. With 1 minute to play, Messalonskee’s Nick Mayo made a 3-pointer from the right baseline, giving Messalonskee a 52-51 lead, its first lead of the game. It was the first of three lead changes in the final minute.
Mason Griffin’s layup with 50 seconds left gave Mt. Ararat a one-point lead, but Messalonskee took the lead back when Mayo sank a pair of free throws with 43.9 seconds left.
With 27 seconds left, Kevin Carter scored to give Mt. Ararat the lead for good. After a Messalonskee turnover with 16 seconds to play, Shyheim Ulrickson made two foul shots with 15 seconds left to give Mt. Ararat a three-point cushion. Mayo and Ryan Erskine each missed a 3-pointer for Messalonskee in the closing seconds.
“We had to play a complete game. We played a great second half. We came back, and we can take that away from it,” Messalonskee coach Pete McLaughlin said. “But we didn’t come ready to play, and that’s on me.”
While Messalonskee struggled to find offense in the first half, Mt. Ararat pushed the ball up the court, scoring quickly from the paint and the perimeter. Ulrickson scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half, while Mike Crawford (19 points) made two of his team-high five 3-pointers.
“In the first half, we were able to get off our 3-point shooters because we were quick with the ball out of the basket. We got the ball inbounds, got it up the quick and got our shooters off,” Watson said.
Mt. Ararat led 34-22 at the half.
“We weren’t patient. We weren’t moving the basketball. We were looking to catch it off one pass and shoot. Against a quality team like Mt. Ararat, you can’t do that,” McLaughlin said. “For a while we couldn’t buy a basket.”
That changed in the second half, when Messalonskee turned up the defensive intensity, forcing Mt. Ararat into 15 turnovers in the final two quarters. By the end of the third quarter, Messalonskee had cut its deficit to seven points, 45-38. The 6-foot-7 Mayo scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, and also finished with 11 rebounds and three blocks.
“(Mayo) proved today why he’s one of the league’s best,” Watson said. “He made shots. All of his shots were big momentum getters, too.”
Jordan Greenleaf’s 3-pointer with 2:06 to play tied the score at 49-49, the first tie since it was 2-2 early in the game. With Messalonskee shutting down the high-scoring Ulrickson in the second half, other players stepped up. Carter scored six of his eight points in the fourth quarter, and Crawford hit three 3-pointers in the third.
“In the second half, it was just a great team effort. We did a nice job getting the ball to different guys in different locations,” Watson said.