Members of the Cheverus High girls’ basketball team celebrate from the bench during a game at Thornton Academy in January. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When Bill Goodman was an assistant coach with the Deering High girls’ basketball team in the early 2000s, the Rams made it a point to keep games low-scoring by playing tight defense. It didn’t matter if the Rams only scored 40 points if they kept their opponents under 30.

But games like that were an aberration back then, not the norm. Over the past two decades, however, low-scoring games have increased significantly for both boys and girls, particularly at the Maine high school basketball tournament.

As fans pour into arenas in Portland, Augusta and Bangor on Friday for the start of the annual tournament, they are far more likely to watch games where the winning team scores fewer than 50 points than they would have seen at the turn of the century.

Longtime coaches like Goodman, now the head coach of the defending Class AA champion Cheverus girls’ team, point to a greater emphasis on defense and more reliance on 3-point shooting rather than higher-percentage shots closer to the basket.

A generation ago, Goodman would have to attend games in person to scout another team. Now, thanks to video sharing services like Hudl, scouting an opponent is just a few clicks away.

“You can see tendencies (on video), and may play better defense against them,” he said. “Now you’re more knowledgeable as a coach. That’s only going to make my team better. That makes it harder to score.”


The Portland Press Herald examined final scores for all tournament games since 1999, searching data in the newspaper’s archives and on the Maine high school basketball history website to look at scoring trends.

In 1999, 20% of the girls’ basketball tournament games were won by a team scoring fewer than 50 points. Last season, that percentage had shot up to slightly more than 50% of games. In each year over the past decade, at least 33% of games were won by a team scoring 50 points or fewer, including a high of 61% in 2015.

On the boys’ side, the trend has been less pronounced, but low-scoring tournament games also have risen significantly. In 1999, just under 6% of boys’ basketball tournament games were won by a team scoring fewer than 50 points. Last season, it was nearly 23%. Just twice in the last 15 tournaments has the percentage of low-scoring boys’ games dipped below 10%, in 2007 (8.6%) and 2020 (8.7%).


In no way is low-scoring a euphemism for bad basketball. For more than three decades as the boys’ coach at Portland High, Joe Russo has preached a defense-first approach to basketball that often flies in the face of the modern game.

“Kids today prepare for basketball through AAU teams. There’s nothing wrong with that, but AAU is more offense-minded. Then they get to high school leagues, where more coaches preach defense,” said Russo, whose teams have won five state championships, most recently in 2017. “Now they’re faced with more defensive pressure, and they struggle to shoot. It’s not that defenses are getting better, (players) aren’t used to facing it.”


The elbow jumper, once an integral part of most high school basketball offenses, is practically extinct. Why shoot from 12 or 15 feet when you can take a few steps back and pop a 3-point shot attempt?

“It’s 3s, drive to the basket, or post moves,” said Anthony Amero, who as the boys’ basketball coach at Jackman’s Forest Hills for more than 20 years has won four Class D state titles. “You don’t see many short-range jumpers.”

Dave Halligan has been the boys’ basketball coach at Falmouth for 36 years. He looked at the shot charts his staff has kept over the last dozen years to see just where the Navigators were accumulating their points. Forty-seven percent of the team’s shots came in the paint, while 39% came from behind the 3-point arc. Just 14% came from that large 2-point range inside the arc and outside the paint.

Falmouth High’s Judd Armstrong goes up for a 3-pointer during a December game against Mt. Ararat at the Portland Expo. Over the past 12 years, nearly 40% of the team’s points have come from behind the arc, while just 14% have been on 2-point shots outside of the paint. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Bigs practice dunks and other guys practice 3s,” Halligan said.

Russo has seen the game change, particularly in how big players are used. It used to be that any player over 6-foot-2 was planted solidly in the low post as a center or power forward. Now, even the biggest players have migrated to the wing and have added the 3-point shot to their offensive arsenal.

“Even if you shoot 3s well, it’s still a low-percentage shot,” he said. “Non-paint (2-point attempts) are nonexistent. We don’t really have post-up big men. They play the perimeter.”


Teams that make the tournament tend to player better defense. And once those teams lock in on the opponent’s top offensive players, you have lower scoring games. Amero said his top shooters in recent seasons, including current standout Mason Desjardins and former Mr. Basketball finalist Parker Desjardins, had to cope with strategies like triangle-and-two or box-and-one defenses that had fallen out of favor for many years. That can force teammates who are less-skilled to take shots instead.

“Junk defenses are making a comeback. We’re all trying to get the ball in the hands of the players who aren’t shooters,” Amero said.

Parker Bate of Mt. Ararat High looks for a teammate as Ben Eugley of Westbrook defends during a game in January. Longtime coaches point to a greater emphasis on defense as a key reason for the increase in low-scoring games at the annual basketball tournament.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Russo doesn’t think teams are necessarily making fewer shots than in the past, but shot selection has become more deliberate and selective, leading to fewer of them. Free throw shooting also is down, Russo said, citing his team’s 47-46 loss to South Portland in the regular-season finale last week.

“We missed seven or eight free throws, but so did South Portland,” Russo said.


Many athletes specialize in one sport and may have abandoned basketball entirely. Those who still play but don’t consider basketball their top sport may not put the work in necessary to become proficient shooters.


“They’ll play basketball, but they don’t practice it (in the offseason),” said Brenda Beckwith, the former girls’ basketball head coach at Messalonskee and Winslow high schools and now the junior varsity boys’ coach at Winslow.

“They don’t put in the amount of time it takes to be a really good scorer, because today’s game is faster and they can’t get off their shot. Kids want coaches to teach them how to shoot. It takes time shooting on your own to be fast. That’s just muscle memory.

“You look at the great shooters, players like Cindy Blodgett and Andy Bedard, they spent hours working on their shot.”

Goodman, the Cheverus girls’ coach, said some athletes who are stars in another sport would rather not play basketball if it means playing junior varsity as a freshman or sophomore.

“They don’t understand that’s where you get better. You get playing time,” Goodman said.

Tournament sites like the Augusta Civic Center have larger courts than many high school teams play on during the regular season, presenting challenges for teams will smaller rosters. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Another factor in lower-scoring tournament games may be the size of the courts, particularly for teams with smaller rosters.

Each tournament site – the Expo and Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Augusta Civic Center and Cross Insurance Center in Bangor – uses a college/pro court that is 94 feet long and 50 feet wide. A regulation high school court is 84 feet long and 50 feet wide. While some schools will play on the larger court in the regular season, most will not. With shorter benches, that could lead to coaches slowing things down to keep their teams from tiring.

“The court size really makes a big difference. You get to the tournament, coaches make adjustments and are just trying to win,” said Amero, the boys’ coach at Forest Hills. “And if you only go eight (players) deep, do you slow things down a little?”

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