LEWISTON — Playing strong defense and having it lead to efficient offense one night can be dismissed as a fluke. Do it on back-to-back nights and it's almost time to start calling it a trend.
Bates shut down Emerson at the end of each half and pulled away for a 66-53 victory over Emerson in the Bates Tipoff Classic championship game at Alumni Gym Saturday.
Senior center Ed Bogdanovich led Bates (2-0) with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while senior guard Mark Brust added 13 points, many of the circus variety. Michael Thorpe paced Emerson (1-1) with 18 points.
"I think this year, all of our offense is going to start from our defense," Brust said. "We have a lot of active guards and Eddie Bogdanovich down low rebounding all the time, so I think that's where our offense is going to come from."
Sure enough, Bates' best offense came when it put the clamps down on Emerson's offense. The Lions roared out to a 10-0 lead, but the Bobcats chipped away before going on a 16-0 run starting midway through the first half to take a lead they would never relinquish.
"Early on, they were hitting a lot of contested shots and I thought our defense was pretty good," Bates coach Jon Furbursh said. "But once we started pressuring the ball a little bit more and got a couple of turnovers, a couple defensive rebounds, into some transition baskets, we got a little more of a flow."
"Once we really put our offense together with our defensive mentality, I think we're going to score a lot of points and have an opportunity to be very good this year," he added.
Trailing 22-13 with 12:29 left in the first half, Bates held Emerson without a field goal for the next 10:06, with the Lions scoring just one free throw to stop the Bobcats' momentum.
Taylor Gartley got the run started with a putback, followed by a Luke Matarazzo 3-pointer. The Bobcats picked up the tempo after that with Derek Murphy feeding a cutting Bogdanovich in the lane, then a Sean Murphy steal and layup followed shortly by a twisting reverse layup by Brust that made it 29-22 Bates with 3:32 left.
Bates led by five at the half and maintained a two-possession margin for nearly nine minutes of the second half.
Emerson, which is coached by former Boston College coach Jim O'Brien, pulled to within three on a Tyson Hallowell layup and two Patrick Lowndes free throws with 11:13 left. But Bates clamped down on their guard penetration and the the Lions missed their next six shots.
"They are really reliant on getting the ball into the paint, whether it's a dump down or kickout," Furbush said. "We just pressured the ball a little bit more. Our gaps and our help-side got better as the game went on and I think that got them a little out of their rhythm."
"We've been focused on staying in the gaps, keeping our guy in front of us and then if we can't, someone else has to help and then we'll rotate," Brust said. "I feel like we're starting to figure it out now."
The Bobcats tried to pull away on a spinning baseline jumper by Brust and Graham Safford's reverse layup for their first double-digit lead, 58-47, with 5:38 remaining.
Jon Goldberg helped pull Emerson back within seven with a jumper from the left elbow, but the Lions couldn't capitalize on three straight Bates turnovers to make it a two-possession game again. Bogdanovich's putback on his fifth offensive rebound (and Bates' 21st) of the game salted the game away.
The Bobcats will stay at home through the holiday break, hosting Southern Maine on Tuesday and Rhode Island College next Sunday.
"I think 2-0 is a great way to start, but we're definitely going to take some things from these two games and we're going to build on them," Brust said. "We've got a lot of work to do, too."