LEWISTON – The Gardiner Tigers have many strengths as a once-beaten basketball team. Nursing a big lead is not one of them.

Gardiner built a 22-point lead in the third quarter, then had to hold off a furious Lewiston comeback to sweat out a 67-59 win Friday night.

Sean McNally finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Tigers (10-1), but had to watch the final 3:05 from the bench after drawing his fifth foul on a Jon Fournier 3-point attempt. Fournier’s made two-of-three from the line to get the Blue Devils (7-5) within nine points.

Back-to-back hoops by Joe Stackowiak and Yassin Omar capped a 17-4 Lewiston run that made it a five-point game with just over two minutes left. But fortunately for Gardiner, Kyle Stilphen, who missed the front end of two one-and-ones earlier in the Devils’ run, made six-of-six from the charity stripe in the final minute to put the game away.

“When we get pressured like that, we’re not experienced enough to play with a lead,” Gardiner coach Dana Doran said. “We have a habit of (relaxing late in games).”

Stachowiak helped the Devils battle back with 12 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter. Fournier added 15 and Omar 11.

“I give those kids a lot of credit because they didn’t cave,” Doran said.

“When they were up 22, the kids could have easily said I’m gonna pack up my stuff and just start chucking threes,’ and we didn’t,” said Lewiston coach Pat Blais. “We’ve been preaching to them about staying mentally tough, staying in the game and good things are going to happen. And good things happened tonight. It didn’t have to be a W’ for good things to happen.'”

They might have had a W’ but for some red-hot outside shooting in the first half by Michael Lavallee (14 points). Lavallee made four first-half 3-pointers under some less-than-ideal shooting conditions.

Lewiston officials had to clear the gym and evacuate the high school just before both teams were to come out for pregame warm-ups because of a faulty fire alarm. The pregame rituals commenced after a brief wait outside while Lewiston firefighters checked the building out. But about a dozen strobe lights connected to the alarm continued to flash throughout the first quarter and part of the second before the alarm could be reset.

The strobes didn’t distract Gardiner, which made five-of-nine from beyond the arc and shot 50 percent from the floor overall in the first half. Lavallee’s hot hand early forced the Blue Devils to stretch its zone and thus, after a slow start, the 6-foot-7 McNally poured in nine points in the second quarter as the Tigers built a 38-23 lead at halftime.

“That is the first game this year that we’ve shot the ball extremely well outside and actually allowed Sean a little space inside,” Doran said.

“We tried to pick the tempo up, and it was hard because it was down the whole first half,” Blais said. “We played zone, and that makes you slow. And we don’t like being slow.”

Unfortunately, the Devils were still slow to start the second half and missed their first eight shots as the Tigers expanded their lead to 48-26. But they trimmed the deficit to 18 by the end of the third and then took advantage of numerous Gardiner turnovers early in the fourth quarter, plus three 3-pointers from Stachowiak and Abdinassir Abdi in the span of 90 seconds, to get back in the game quickly.

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