FARMINGTON – Some basketball teams have an on-off switch. The Mt. Blue Cougars have a turbo button that head coach Jim Bessey can press whenever he’s not pleased with the pace of a game.

The Cougars summoned their turbo boost, a fullcourt trap, late in the first half of their season-opener, then dominated the second half with it to defeat defending Eastern A champion Hampden Academy, 72-54, on Saturday.

“We picked up the tempo a little bit and got the game going faster,” Bessey said. “We extended fullcourt man-to-man (late in the first half). We started out in halfcourt man-to-man and we got very, very bad foul trouble early on.”

Senior forward Isaiah Brathwaite (five steals) initiated much of the chaos at the defensive end and benefited from it offensively, too, scoring a game-high 24 points (along with five rebounds and three assists).

“We just wanted to make them turn the ball over and make them play our game, which is fast-paced,” Brathwaite said. “We love (extending the pressure). It makes them play our pace. When they do that, they’re going to get out of control and we know we can handle it.”

Mt. Blue doubled-up Hampden on the glass, 32-16 (12-6 on the offensive boards).

Adam Gilbert sat out most of the first half with foul trouble but bounced back with all of his 12 points and nine rebounds in the second half. Jamie Sawyer added 12 points off the bench, while Art Trask tallied eight points, eight assists and four steals.

The Cougars took control of the game by holding the Broncos without a field goal for nearly a sixth minute span stretched over the third and fourth quarters.

Gilbert’s free throw with 4:08 to go in the third gave the Cougars the lead for good.

Justin Brown’s bucket with 3:20 left made it 39-38.

But Sawyer’s 3-pointer sparked an 11-2 run to close a quarter in which the Cougars shot 8-of-11 from the floor.

Mt. Blue led by as much as 14 in the fourth before Brown finally broke Hampden’s cold spell with a hoop that made it 55-45 with 5:39 left.

That was as close as the Broncos would get.

Just as he did the previous quarter, Sawyer responded with a 3, and the Cougars forced eight turnovers in the quarter (and 26 for the game) to pull away.

“We prepared for their pressure, but preparing for it in practice and then in a game sense is hard to replicate,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “I thought early on in the game we did fine with their pressure when they tried to do it. But we got tentative, and when you are tentative, you tend to make turnovers.”

Led by Daniel McCue, who scored a team-high 18 points, the Broncos jumped out to a 16-11 lead after one.

They led by as much as seven before the Cougars went to the fullcourt press full-time late in the second quarter to close the half with a 12-3 run and take a 27-25 lead into the intermission.


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