Kobe Rogerson of Brewer drives past Bangor defenders Jason Smith (left) and Henry Westrich as Noah Missbrenner (left) and Matt Fleming (10) look on during a December 2017 game in Brewer. Credit: BDN File

BANGOR, Maine — Defense kept the Bangor boys basketball team in contention during the first half of Tuesday night’s home opener against Oxford Hills of South Paris.

Offense enabled the Rams to take control after the break as coach Brad Libby’s club improved to 2-0 with a 65-47 Class AA North victory over the visiting Vikings at Red Barry Gymnasium.

Limited to 20 points on 25 percent (6-of-24) shooting from the field over the first two periods, Bangor connected on 16 of its 29 shots (55 percent) during a 45-point second half, including 7 of 13 from beyond the 3-point arc, as the Rams erased a two-point halftime deficit.

“We really started attacking the rim more, and once we got it into the paint that opened up the outside a lot more,” said Bangor junior forward Henry Westrich.

Senior forward Matthew Fleming paced Bangor with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while senior guard Damien Vance added 17 points, four rebounds and four assists. Westrich finished with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists.

Perhaps the most important point of the game came 10 seconds into the second half when the 6-foot-6 Fleming took a pass from Vance in the lane and scored while also drawing the third foul on Oxford Hills frontcourt leader Colton Carson.

Fleming made the free throw to complete the three-point play, and leading 23-22 Bangor never trailed again.

“It wasn’t necessarily a set play but we had been preaching to get the ball to the free-throw line all game because that’s how we wanted to break their zone,” said Fleming, in his second year at Bangor after transferring from Oxford Hills.

Fleming’s play ignited a run of 11 unanswered points by Bangor to open the final half. Fleming and Westrich each followed with a 3-pointer and Westrich grabbed a defensive rebound and drove the length of the court to give the Rams a 31-22 cushion before Will Dieterich scored Oxford Hills’ first points of the half with 4:23 left in the third quarter.

The Vikings — 0-2 after losses to Bangor and defending state champion Edward Little of Auburn — drew within 33-27 on a drive by senior guard Spencer Strong. But 3-pointers by Vance, Fleming and reserve guard Parker Noyes extended the Bangor lead 42-31 by the end of the period.

When Fleming opened the fourth quarter with an inside basket and senior forward Noah Missbrenner followed with a 3-pointer, the lead was 47-31 and Oxford Hills got no closer than 11 the rest of the way.

“In the first half we were able to play some zone that looked like it confused them some,” said longtime Oxford Hills coach Scott Graffam. “In the second half they came out and found the guy that was open and that forced us to play man and they have five good basketball players.

“This is as good a defensive team as I’ve had in my career, I’m going to tell you that, but we’re not guarding five guys who can all shoot it.”

Strong led Oxford Hills with 15 points, 12 in the first half. Carson added 12 points and eight rebounds and Dieterich scored 10 points.

“Defensively we played two really good halves of basketball,” said Libby. “Offensively we’ve got to finish. We get a little bit of contact and we want to shy away from it rather than going up through it. We talked about that at halftime, to go strong to the hole and either you’re going to finish or you’re going to get fouled, and we did a much better job of that in the second half.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...