MONMOUTH – Dirigo High School demonstrated the difference Friday night between a boys’ basketball program hoping to grow and gain ground in the rugged Mountain Valley Conference and one that expects to contend for regional and state championships this winter and next.

Ten deep and tournament tested, the Cougars scored the first seven points of the season and cruised to a 74-43 Class C victory over Monmouth Academy at Stu Foster Gymnasium.

All five starters got on the board in a 13-2 run from the opening tap, and Dirigo didn’t lose an ounce of defensive intensity when it went to the bench.

Colby Knapp led the Cougars with 17 points. Thomas Knight added 16 and blocked four shots, while Mike Holmquist tallied 12 and dished out five assists.

Spencer Berry jammed the stat sheet with eight points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and three rejections. Josh Daley steered the ship to the tune of seven points and nine assists.

“We were hoping to get up and down the floor early,” said Dirigo coach Gavin Kane. “I feel like we do a lot of good things when we play at a rapid pace.”

Dirigo led 21-11 after eight minutes and fattened that advantage to 35-15 at the half. In the second quarter, the Cougars forced 11 turnovers and permitted only three Monmouth field goal attempts.

Nate Armstrong logged game-highs of 14 points and eight rebounds for the Mustangs. Tyler Somerville chipped in eight points, six rebounds and six assists.

They’re the only two seniors returning from a team that won two games last season, and both battled early foul trouble.

“A couple of calls didn’t go our way, but if you stretch it out over the course of the game, I’m not sure it made much difference,” said Monmouth coach Shelby Turcotte.

Ronnie Hobson filled the void for Monmouth, scoring seven of his nine points in the first half.

Armstrong’s 3-pointer sliced the deficit to 41-24 with 4:16 remaining in the third quarter. Then Dirigo’s starters returned to the floor in a five-for-five substitution and rattled off 14 unanswered points.

Knapp and Knight each delivered three inside buckets in that period for the Cougars, who shot a toasty 32-for-60 (53 percent) from the floor overall.

“We got the ball inside and got some key shots,” said Knapp. “But our man-to-man defense needs to be a lot better. We gave up too many easy shots.”

The Cougars created continuous havoc with their full-court press and their traps, producing 28 turnovers and numerous transition lay-ups.

“It’s not the way you want to open the season, but you won’t find many better teams. If we’re going to play them, we might as well play them now,” Turcotte said.

“You know they have talent and skill, so you look at whether or not you can match their intensity for a full game. I think we did that. If you play like that against most of the teams in our conference, you’re going to win some games.”

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