AUGUSTA — Every basketball player wants to combine his dream game with a big spot against a top-notch opponent.
Ben Allen of Winthrop accomplished that Saturday morning, shooting a perfect 9-for-9 from the field on his way to 22 points and leading the undefeated Ramblers to a 67-53 MVC victory over Dirigo at Augusta Civic Center.
“Never in my life,” Allen said when asked if he’d ever played such an efficient game. “I’ve always felt comfortable playing here. I’ve always enjoyed it every time we do. Today was a big game, and as it turned out I had the best stuff I could bring to the table.”
Winthrop (7-0) gave up a home game in order to fit the showdown into the confines of Cony’s 20th annual Capital City Hoop Classic. Allen made the choice pay off with a marquee performance on the same court where the teams could meet in the Class C West tournament about seven weeks from now.
Allen made a 10-0 run by himself — helped by three assists from Bennett Brooks — in a two-minute span late in the second quarter, transforming a 27-25 deficit into a 35-29 halftime lead.
The Ramblers never trailed again, with Dakota Carter and Anthony Owens combining for 10 points to help them open a 52-36 margin at the end of three.
“We weren’t very tough today. Normally we’re better than that,” Dirigo coach Travis Magnusson said. “But give Winthrop a lot of credit. A lot of what we did wrong, they made us do wrong. They were very good defensively, and they shot the ball very well.”
Winthrop held Dirigo star Riley Robinson to 15 points, and eight of those came in the fourth quarter. Robinson also registered 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Gavin Arsenault added 11 points for the Cougars (5-2), who bid farewell to a five-game winning streak.
An 11-2 run out of the starting block was the highlight for Dirigo, which committed an uncharacteristic 25 turnovers.
“I like our matchup of Matt Sekerak on (Robinson). Matt really understands the angles, and he stays on his feet,” Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur said. “Matt really enjoys playing Riley. He does a good job of not letting him get touches on the block. A lot of people don’t realize he’s probably our player of the game.”
Carter and Taylor Morang each scored 12 points for Winthrop, with Morang dishing out eight assists and Carter collecting four steals. Owens added 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Sekerak chipped in seven points.
Winthrop scored the final nine points of the first quarter, taking a 17-15 lead on Carter’s jumper courtesy of a kick-out from Owens as time expired.
“We know that over the course of 32 minutes we’re going to have our ups and downs, so we just stuck with it, relied on our defense, and at some point we were going to make a run ourselves,” MacArthur said.
Gavin Hebert’s 3-point play, followed by a Tyler Frost steal, a foul and two free throws, restored Dirigo’s lead with 2:47 to go in the half before the Allen uprising.
“I shot one and I was like, ‘Alright, I made my one jump shot for the half.’ Then I shot the second one and the third,” Allen said. “I just kept throwing them up there and they were going in. The guys got me open, setting screens and stuff like that.”
“Ben is such a good jump shooter. When he gets going, we get going,” MacArthur added. “That a big benefit to us in that quarter, because that really enticed our run and got us going. It probably changed the game at that point.”
The Cougars shot only 28 percent from the field.
“We take pride in our defense. That’s what we’ve built this program on,” Allen said. “Out of all of us, we’re good defenders. There’s days where I can’t shoot like that, but you can always play defense, and I think that’s our attitude toward it.”
Dirigo made a 9-0 push, all by Clay Swett and Robinson, to get the Cougars within 10 at 61-51 with just over two minutes to go.
Sekerak, Allen and Morang were a combined 6-for-8 from the line down the stretch to ice it. The Ramblers made 24-for-32 from the stripe on the day compared to the Cougars’ 8-for-9.
“They pack the paint really well, so we just have to make some adjustments to try to get some counters off it. They took away a lot of stuff we like to do,” Magnusson said. “Anytime you play hopefully you take something out of it. Hopefully we’re ready to play a lot more the next time we play a team like this. We played well for a quarter, but we didn’t play well after that.”
The teams will square off again Jan. 19 in Dixfield.
“They’re the cream of the crop as far as the MVC. They’ve always been that way,” MacArthur said. “We want our program to be that good, so it’s nice to beat a program that we admire and respect.”