FARMINGTON — Gavin Kane is certainly familiar with Lawrence’s Nia Irving.
The standout junior forward plays on the same Maine Maniacs AAU team as Kane’s daughter. So the Mt. Blue girls’ basketball coach has cheered on Irving’s post play on many occasions.
Tuesday night, Kane and his Cougars faced the opposite scenario. Irving was a sizable threat for Mt. Blue, and Kane was trying to find a way to defend her.
“She’s a great player,” Kane said. “She’s a tough matchup for us. As a matter of fact, Lawrence is a tough matchup for us with (Paige) Belanger and (Dominique) Lewis. It makes it tough for us with our personnel to match up with man-to-man.”
Irving lived up to the talents she’s shown with the Maniacs and finished with 22 points to lead Lawrence to a 50-42 win. Irving scored 10 in the first quarter as the unbeaten Bulldogs opened the early lead, forcing the Cougars to play from behind.
“It was a really good start,” Irving said. “My team did a really good job of getting me the ball when I was open. We just capitalized on getting it into the post.”
Mt. Blue (3-2) was down by as many as 13 in the first half but battled back numerous times in the second half. The Cougars were within four late in the third quarter and got within two in the fourth. Mt. Blue was as close as 42-39 with 2:05 left, but Lawrence (6-0) was able to pad the lead from the foul line.
“We played their style,” Lawrence coach John Donato said. “They slowed the ball down. They got the ball to their shooters. We got lulled to sleep. In the beginning of the game, we were able to get easy looks. Then we stopped running it and they started pressing. We started getting worried. After a big win over Edward Little, this was like a trap game. We just didn’t come with any emotion or any enthusiasm.”
In addition to Irving’s 22 points, she had seven rebounds and four blocks. Lewis, another Maniac, finished with nine points while Belanger added seven points and nine rebounds. Irving and Lewis’ Maniac teammate, Caitlin Kane, led Mt. Blue with 15. Eryn Doiron added eight points, six assists and four rebounds.
Lawrence jumped out to a 19-6 lead in the first quarter. The Bulldogs shot 8-for-13 while Mt. Blue was 3-for-13 from the floor. The Cougars were plagued by six turnovers and an uneasiness early on as the Bulldogs opened up a quick 10-2 lead.
“I thought we were a little bit tentative, a little bit reserved,” Kane said. “That was a big part of our discussion after the ballgame. That’s a hurdle we need to overcome.”
Though the Cougars got within 11-6 on a Kane basket, Lawrence ran off eight straight to finish the quarter up 19-6.
In a tightly-officiated game, the Cougars faced some foul trouble. Center Addie Brinkman missed most of the second quarter with two fouls while Kane sat much of the third quarter with three fouls.
Lawrence was up 30-21 at the half, after Mt. Blue got a 3 from Kane and baskets by Rachelle Bator and Emilee Eustis to close the gap at the end of the half. Then six points by Brinkman sparked a third quarter that had the Cougars within four late in the quarter and down just 36-31 entering the fourth.
“We kept coming back at them,” Kane said. “Unfortunately, when we’d made a run to get it back to six or four, we’d turn around and have some defensive breakdowns, and they’d move it back up to 10.”
A Sarah Cummings 3 with 4:49 left got the Cougars within 38-36, but Lawrence answered with free throws from Lewis and a basket by Irving. A 3 from Kane made it 42-39 with 2:05 left, but the Bulldogs got six straight free throws, four from Jordyn Towers and two from Irving, to open the lead.
“The key to that is not worrying about them coming back,” Irving said. “We know if we slow down our offense and we play great defense, we’ll come back.”
Lawrence got the lead back to 48-39 before Kane’s third 3 of the night cut it to six. Lewis and Belanger sealed it with shots from the line in the final seconds.
“I’m pleased with the start to this season, but now we have to decide that we’re going to step on the court from the opening tap and be ready to battle,” said Kane, who got to greet the visiting Spruce Mountain girls’ team that he coached last year following the game. “We have to be ready to battle and believe that we can battle with anybody.”