DEXTER, Maine — The basics of the Dexter boys basketball program for generations — disciplined offense and assertive defense — were on full display Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers yielded just seven field goals to Bucksport and defeated the Golden Bucks 62-20 at Guiski Gymnasium.
The victory — No. 301 in Peter Murray’s coaching career at Dexter — improved the Tigers to 5-0 on the season and sets up a battle of Class C North unbeatens against Stearns of Millinocket at 11 a.m. next Saturday as part of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Stearns is 5-0 after a 64-59 victory on Saturday at Central of Corinth.
Dexter’s early season success comes as no surprise, with a veteran team back from last winter’s club that went 14-4 during the regular season and defeated Bucksport in the prelims before bowing to No. 2 Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln in the regional quarterfinals.
Senior Nathan Richards is a third-year starter at point guard for the Tigers, flanked by five athletic frontcourt players either 6-foot-2 and 6-3 — seniors Hayden Guenther and Cameron Paige, juniors Brett Kusnierz and Robbie Dorman and freshman Will Kusnierz — all capable of protecting the basket defensively and similarly working in tandem on offense.
Guenther had five blocked shots against Bucksport, which was led by Ty Giberson’s game-high 15 points.
“The biggest thing is how we play together, especially on defense,” said Brett Kusnierz, who contributed 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds. “What sets us apart from other teams is we really get after it on the defensive end. We just play as one.”
The Tigers also have considerable depth, not only with their frontcourt strength but also in the backcourt with junior guard Parker Ponte and senior guard Logan Perkins.
“We have guys back who were starters before and we have guys on the bench that have been huge factors in helping us get better,” Guenther said. “We’ve all been playing together since we were younger and we’ve all grown as one.”
Dexter’s defense has yielded just 33.2 points per game entering the holiday break, with a high allowed coming during Murray’s 300th win Thursday night, a 56-47 decision at Piscataquis of Guilford.
The Tigers have complemented their defense by averaging 64.0 points for a robust scoring differential of 30.8 points.
While the scoring average is solid, it’s also truly a collective effort. Will Kusnierz led the way against Bucksport with 13 points but was one of seven Tigers with at least five points during the one-sided contest, which Dexter broke open with 14 unanswered points to build an 18-5 lead midway through the second quarter.
“They’re unselfish, and it’s a team-first mentality,” Murray said. “We’ve always stressed that here anyways, but this team is a lot of good friends and the only number we’re worried about is the score at the end of the game.
“In the previous four games we had at least three kids in double figures and in some cases four kids in double figures. We don’t have any 20-point scorers but we’ve got a lot of 10s and 12s.”
Dexter is one of three unbeatens remaining in the 20-school Class C North standings along with Stearns and 6-0 George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, currently the No. 1 seed.
Neither Dexter nor Stearns play GSA during the regular season, making their two meetings — the return match is Jan. 17 at Millinocket — potentially pivotal to the standings come tournament time.
But for the Tigers there’s much work to be done before then.
“Our rebounding needs to improve in a big way,” Murray said. “You look at us and see a pretty tall team but we don’t rebound well.
“Defensively we’re pretty solid, and that’s where our bread and butter is. If we could clean up the rebounding we’d be a pretty tough team to beat.”