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PORTLAND—In a span of just over 24 hours, the Falmouth boys’ basketball team, the defending Class B state champion, served notice that not only does it intend to add a shiny Class A Gold Ball to its trophy case this winter, but that it might just be the favorite to do so.
Friday evening, in the main event of the Red Claws Christmas Tournament at the Portland Exposition Building, one night after a stirring come-from-behind win over Portland, the Yachstmen took the big stage again and squared off with the other co-favorite from the Southwestern Maine Activities Association, the Bonny Eagle Scots.
And this time, it wasn’t even close.
Falmouth led almost the entire way, dominating the glass behind senior Nick Burton and junior Jack Simonds, while getting a strong shooting performance from just about everyone who took the floor.
The Yachtsmen led, 21-13, after one period, thanks to seven points from unheralded senior Matthew Tseng. They extended that advantage to 34-23 at halftime and opened the second half on an 18-5 run to end all doubt. Falmouth then put the closing touches on a most impressive 66-55 triumph which, while it didn’t “count,” certainly resonated throughout the local basketball community.
Burton stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points and 13 rebounds, Simonds added nine points and 15 boards, sophomore sharpshooter Thomas Coyne finished with 15 points and Tseng contributed nine as a program which has turned so many heads in recent years, made a powerful statement.
“It was a good 24 hours because both (Portland and Bonny Eagle) brought out the best in us,” said Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. “They’re two of the best teams in the state. You have to elevate your game just to compete and I thought they did that.”
Falmouth has lost exactly two regular season games over the past three seasons, but the second such loss occurred last Saturday, when, after a thrilling rally, the Yachtsmen couldn’t hold a late five-point lead and fell at Greely in overtime, 57-53.
“The Greely loss was a good lesson before Christmas,” Halligan said. “It opened our eyes. Greely’s a very good team. They could beat these (Class A) teams too.”
Falmouth had won its first five contests by an average of 33 points, but the setback left a mark.
The Yachtsmen then came to the Expo with something to prove and certainly did so Thursday night when they erased a 12-point third quarter deficit and rallied from three points down late in the fourth quarter to stun Portland, 55-52.
Bonny Eagle, a Western A finalist three years running, knows that this winter brings a great opportunity to finally get over the hump and the Scots impressed in their first six outings, downing Deering, Cheverus, Sanford, Marshwood, Westbrook and South Portland to soar to the top of the Heal Points standings.
Entering Friday’s showdown, Bonny Eagle and Falmouth had no countable history and Friday night’s encounter didn’t go into the record books either, but the Yachtsmen served notice that if the teams meet again in February, with everything at stake, that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
The Scots had the better of the play for about two minutes, taking an early 2-0 lead on a layup from junior Zach Dubiel and after Falmouth tied it on a floater from senior Justin Rogers, they went up, 5-2, when senior standout Dustin Cole buried a 3.
The Yachtsmen then went on an 8-0 run and never looked back.
A putback from Burton hinted at Falmouth’s glass dominance to come. Tseng then stole the ball and made a layup to put his team ahead to stay. A long jumper from Simonds and a layup by Rogers pushed the lead to 10-5.
After Dubiel ended the run with a bank shot, Coyne set up Tseng for a layup. Cole answered by setting up junior Matt Smith for a layup, but Rogers passed to Burton for a layup and a 14-9 lead.
The Scots crawled back within three on a driving bank shot from Cole, but Tseng stepped back and hit a 3, Simonds made a free throw and after Bonny Eagle senior Jon Woods somehow redirected a missed shot home with one hand, Coyne made a long 3 to end the first quarter with Falmouth in control, 21-13.
Tseng, who has largely been in a supporting role this winter, emerged as the lead in the first eight minutes.
“We work it inside first to Nick and Jack because we have a size advantage,” said Tseng. “If they get doubled, I call, ‘Ball!’ and hit the open shots if I can.”
“Matthew’s a little unorthodox, but the more confident he gets, the better he’ll get,” Halligan said. “In practice, he’ll knock down six, seven 3s in a row.”
The Yachtsmen threatened to run away and hide early in the second quarter as Simonds scored on a putback and Coyne fed Burton for a layup, but Cole found junior Ben Malloy for a backdoor layup to keep the deficit at 10, 25-15.
After Falmouth senior I.V. Stucker scored on a putback, Cole hit a 3, but a Simonds leaner and an NBA-range 3 from Coyne made the score 32-18.
The Scots roared back behind consecutive 3-balls from senior Nate Alexander, but inside the final minute, Simonds fed Burton down low and Burton made a reverse layup for a 34-24 halftime advantage.
More than half (18) of Falmouth’s first half points came in the paint, as Burton and Simonds combined for 15 points and 17 rebounds. Bonny Eagle lived and died with the 3-ball, making four, but the Scots didn’t get to the foul line once.
The Yachtsmen effectively ended the competitive phase of the contest in the third period.
Just 25 seconds in, Rogers made a 3. Simonds added a putback to push the lead to 39-24.
After an Alexander layup, Coyne buried back-to-back 3s and just like that Falmouth was on top, 45-26.
Cole answered with an old-fashioned three-point play (leaner, foul and his team’s first free throw), but Coyne took a pass from Rogers in transition and sank a 3, Simonds set up Burton for a layup and with 1;54 to go in the third, the dynamic inside tandem hooked up for a duplicate basket making the score 52-29.
“We want to play inside-out primarily,” said Simonds. “We work it inside and if they collapse, we kick it out. We share the ball pretty well. We pride ourselves on assists.”
Late in the quarter, Malloy and senior Nate Schopen sandwiched 3s around a Burton putback, but the Yachtsmen took a 19-point lead, 54-35, into the fourth.
There, Bonny Eagle momentarily made things interesting as Cole scored on a driving layup, then made two free throws, but a Tseng layup stemmed the tide.
After another driving layup by Cole, Burton scored on a putback for a 58-41 lead.
After Cole made a long 3, then scored on a difficult angle spin move to cut the deficit to a dozen, Tseng passed to Burton, who made a layup while being fouled. He added the free throw for the three-point play to make it 61-46 with 4:16 to go.
Burton added two more foul shots before a Schopen 3 and another 3 from junior Dylan Ricci pulled the Scots within 11, 63-52, with 46.7 seconds remaining.
A free throw from Stucker and a putback from senior Addison Foltmer then ended Falmouth’s offensive output, A last second 3 from Schopen brought the curtain down on the Yachtsmen’s 66-55 triumph.
“We were pretty frustrated with the loss to Greely,” Simonds said. “We should have beaten them. We tried to take it out I guess on the top teams from Class A. We want to solidify ourselves as one of the top teams in A so teams won’t take us lightly in the tournament. Bonny Eagle and Portland attract big crowds, so we might as well tag along.”
“It’s probably the most fun we’ve had all year, I’d say,” said Tseng. “I thought we were well rested. Our bench is good. We subbed in a lot.”
Burton finished with a game-high 21 points, also grabbed 13 rebounds and had a pair of steals. Simonds had nine points and 15 boards, as Falmouth enjoyed a 38-21 rebounding advantage.
“(Jack and Nick) do all the things that big guys are supposed to do,” Halligan said. “They can hit a 3 if they need to take one, but they do their job down low.”
Coyne had 15 points (all on 3s), while Tseng certainly impressed with his nine points, one steal and one blocked shot.
Rogers added seven points, Stucker had three and Foltmer two.
The Yachtsmen only turned the ball over 11 times and made five of 11 foul shots.
Not surprisingly, Cole led Bonny Eagle with 19 points, but the Franklin Pierce-bound standout didn’t go off as he so often does. Coyne did much of the dirty work defensively, but it was a team effort.
“We played (Cole) man-up and if he beat us, we’d play help defense,” Tseng said. “We made him pass the ball to other players and make them to try to beat us.”
“We just played straight up,” Halligan said. “Coyne got a good workout. They’re competitors. Head-to-head they were fun to watch.”
Schopen added nine points, Alexander had eight, Dubiel seven, Malloy five, Ricci three and Smith and Woods two apiece.
The Scots scored more than half (30) of their points from behind the arc, but only got to the free throw line for three attempts (they made all of them).
Bonny Eagle turned the ball over 12 times.
Bonny Eagle is back in action Monday, when it hosts Noble. The Scots play host to Gorham Friday.
Falmouth, which is third in the Western A Heals at press time, plays its next countable game Friday, when longtime rival Cape Elizabeth pays a visit.
With the Greely disappointment now in the rearview mirror and with abundant confidence restored, the Yachtsmen project to be very difficult to beat in January, February and possibly even March.
“This builds our confidence after the Greely loss,” Simonds said. “We have to keep building on it going toward the playoffs.”
“Now we have to go back to practice and replicate this intensity, because you play how you practice,” Halligan added. “We’re full of confidence now and I see us getting a lot better. The key is to get better by the end of the season. We’ll have our work cut for us and we know that. We hope to be a team to be reckoned with by the end of the season.”
Falmouth senior Matthew Tseng was one of the heroes of Friday’s win, scoring nine points.
Falmouth sophomore Thomas Coyne launches one of his five 3-pointers.
Falmouth senior Justin Rogers blows past a Bonny Eagle defender en route to the basket.
Falmouth senior Nick Burton, who excelled at the holiday tournament, goes up for a shot.
Falmouth junior Jack Simonds leans in for a shot.
The long arms of Falmouth junior Jack Simonds alter the shot of Bonny Eagle junior Zach Dubiel during the teams’ non-countable showdown Friday night at the Red Claws Christmas Tournament. Simonds and the Yachtsmen carried play almost throughout in a 66-55 victory.
Jason Vellieux photos.
More photos below.
BE- 13 11 11 20- 55
F- 21 13 20 12- 66
BE- CoIe 7-3-19, Schopen 3-0-9, Alexander 3-0-8, Dubiel 3-0-7, Malloy 2-0-5, Ricci 1-0-3, Smith 1-0-2, Woods 1-0-2
F- Burton 9-3-21, Coyne 5-0-15, Simonds 4-1-9, Tseng 4-0-9, Rogers 3-0-7, Stucker 1-1-3, Foltmer 1-0-2
BE (10) Schopen 3, Alexander, Cole 2, Dubiel, Malloy, Ricci 1
F (7) Coyne 5, Rogers, Tseng 1
BE (21) Alexander 6, Malloy 4, Cole, Dubiel 3, Woods 2, Gibson, Martin, Smith 1
F (38) Simonds 15, Burton 13, Coyne 5, Stucker 2, Foltmer, Rogers, Tseng 1
BE (3) Alexander, Dubiel, Malloy 1
F (5) Burton 2, C. Coyne, Foltmer, Tseng 1
F (1) Tseng 1