PORTLAND – Jon Jennings walked down the hallway in the basement of the Portland Expo and congratulated Austin Ainge, the Maine Red Claws’ coach. “Way to coach the 3-point line,” he said.

“I told them to make them,” replied Ainge to the team’s president and general manager.

And make them the Red Claws did. Maine hit a season-high 14 3-pointers — one shy of the team record — to beat the Springfield Armor 114-103 on Tuesday night. The Red Claws hit 14 of 21 3-pointers.

Jamar Smith, who led Maine with 20 points despite playing less then six minutes in the second half after being kneed in the calf, hit hit first five 3-pointers and finished 6 of 7, his lone miss a deep force as the shot clock expired.

But the biggest 3 may have come from Champ Oguchi, who drilled a 26-footer with 1:36 remaining to make it 109-100 after the Armor sliced a 20-point deficit to six.

“We shot the lights out,” said Ainge.

“I wasn’t real pleased with our defense. We were shooting so well I thought we should have had a little more cushion. But we didn’t get the stops we needed. But the thing I did like was the effort, the energy. We were pushing the ball. And a large part of that was Kenny Hayes.”

Hayes finished with 17 points but provided big leadership points down the stretch. He hit some key shots and made some strong defensive plays.

Maine’s 3-point shooting carried it to an 88-72 lead entering the final period. The Red Claws got 3-pointers from Hayes, Matt Janning (two) and Paul Harris in the final 2:05 of the third quarter to break open a nine-point game.

“Those 3’s are a lot better than dunks,” said Dee Brown, coach of the Armor. “You get an extra point for them. They didn’t paint that line out there for decoration,. You get that extra point.

“And when they go out there and hit those 3s, that’s when you’re in trouble.”

Maine twice moved to a 20-point margin in the early minutes of the fourth, only to see Jerry Smith (game-high 26 points) and Tre Whitted (14 points) fuel a rally that twice pulled Springfield within five.

But, said Hayes, “we made plays down the end,” that enabled the Red Claws to even their record at 7-7 with their fourth win over Springfield this season.

First, Mario West threw down a vicious one-handed dunk off a pass from Tiny Gallon with 2:56 left to make it 104-96. Then Hayes, off a brick-wall screen by Gallon, hit a pull-up jumper from the foul line to maintain the eight-point edge.

Finally, Oguchi drilled his 3-pointer — Maine’s only one of the fourth — to make it 109-100.

He followed with two foul shots with 58.2 seconds left to give the Red Claws an 11-point lead.

Hayes said the young team is starting to mature.

“Our main thing is to play team ball, to play team basketball,” said Hayes. “We’re starting to really know each other’s game and we’re practicing hard every day. We’re going at each other hard.

“I think we’re more focused. We want to win.”

The Red Claws also had 20 assists on their 41 baskets, another sign that they’re maturing.

“We’re at our best when we share the ball,” said Ainge. “We have a lot of good players on this team. And sometimes it’s hard to define roles because we have eight, nine or 10 guys about the same. But we need to share the ball.”

The first half was a game of streaks, and the Red Claws finished with the longest one.

Trailing 40-39 with 7:53 left in the second quarter, the Red Claws outscored the Armor 21-7 the rest of the way to take a 60-47 lead.

DeShawn Sims gave Maine the lead at 41-40 with a power move inside, then Hayes scored six consecutive points, followed by two Sims foul shots, before Springfield would score again, on an offensive rebound by Vernon Goodridge.

Jamar Smith and Oguchi hit back-to-back 3-pointers and it was 55-42.

Matt Janning ended the run with a 3-pointer at the buzzer — head-faking a Springfield defender, then slide-stepping to the left — to make it 60-47.

 

NOTES: The Red Claws will collect new and gently used hats, scarves, gloves, mittens and warm socks before Thursday night’s game with Erie to be distributed, in conjunction with Winter Kids, to Maine children in need. Attendance was announced as another sellout at 3,045, but there were considerable empty seats. The game was a makeup of Sunday’s contest, postponed because of the snow storm.

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]