PORTLAND — The first-place Maine Red Claws, led by Andre Barrett’s team record 17 assists, held off an early charge by the Iowa Energy to win their fourth straight game Friday night, 110-104, at the Portland Expo.
Barrett broke the record of 14 assists, set by Will Blalock during the Red Claws’ inaugural season of 2009-10.
Maine (14-7) got off to a quick start, taking a 7-6 lead early, with the returning Chris Wright getting off to a hot start in the early minutes. From there, Iowa (6-14) took control, outscoring the Red Claws 23-7 throughout the rest of the quarter on the strength of former Red Claws forward Morris Almond’s 13 points.
Iowa finished the frame with a 29-14 edge.
Then Maine took over, cutting the lead to six at halftime, getting back into the game thanks to a scoring flurry from Micah Downs, Wright and Boston Celtics’ assigned player Fab Melo. The comeback was also keyed by strong defense from Downs, Melo and Scott VanderMeer. Maine headed into the locker room trailing 53-47.
The Red Claws stormed to the front at the start of the third with a 17-4 run, keyed by Melo and Wright. Iowa weathered the storm with a 10-2 run of its own, taking a slim 79-77 edge into the final frame.
Melo opened the quarter for Maine with four quick points to tie the score at 81. That’s when Xavier Silas and Barrett hooked up to take control of the game for good, as Silas scored 12 points in the quarter, many coming from Barrett assists.
With 5:28 left in the contest, Barrett dished his team record-breaking 15th assist to VanderMeer. The Red Claws closed the game with a 12-3 run.
The Energy were led by Almond’s 27 points and six rebounds. Iowa also got strong performances from Josh Boone (18), Othyus Jeffers (11) and Chris Wright (11 points, six rebounds).
Former Red Claw Paul Harris had a solid game in his return to the Expo, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds.
Melo led Portland with 26 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Also keying the Maine win were Wright (26 points, four rebounds, three blocks), Downs (20 points, six steals, five blocks) and Silas (23 points). Barrett’s record-setting night included eight points and seven rebounds to go along with his 17 assists.
The Red Claws and Energy will meet each other again Saturday at 7 p.m.